Good things come in small packages.
Ant-Man and The Wasp doesn’t have as much style as James Gunn’s Guardians movies or Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, but returning director Peyton Reed has honed in on everything that made the first Ant-Man so charming and doubled down on it, from the offbeat humor to the zippy energy radiating from every scene. It’s a smidge longer than its predecessor, but somehow feels tighter and more confident in its execution — a rare feat for a sequel.
Let’s get this out of the way up front: If you’re hoping that Ant-Man and The Wasp will answer all your lingering Infinity War questions, you’d better temper your expectations now. It’s no spoiler to admit – since Marvel’s official plot synopsis already did – that the sprightly sequel to Marvel’s 2015 heist movie takes place in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War, with our diminutive hero Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) under house arrest following his shenanigans in Germany with Cap and the gang.
But that doesn’t mean Ant-Man and The Wasp is divorced from everything else that’s happening in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; while the sequel succeeds in telling a refreshingly self-contained story, it’s clear that the discoveries revealed here will play an integral role in Avengers 4 and beyond. (For once, the first post-credits scene isn’t a bonus – it’s the actual end of the movie, so don’t leave early.)
The key characteristic that Ant-Man and The Wasp shares with the rest of the films in Marvel’s Phase Three is a focus on family, whether that means your blood relatives or the tribe you form for yourself. While Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) are willing to go to any lengths to reunite with their family’s long-lost matriarch, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer, who’s radiant but underutilized), Scott’s top priority is setting a good example for his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) and making sure that he’s around to see her grow up. But he’s also concerned with ensuring that his former accomplices – Luis (Michael Pena), Dave (T.I.), and Kurt (David Dastmalchian) – get a shot at rehabilitation, too.
The first Ant-Man is arguably the lightest of the MCU movies in both plot and tone (the Guardians films, for all their sass, still feature some undeniably heavy moments), and the sequel has a similar playfulness. It wholeheartedly embraces the inherent ridiculousness of Scott’s powers and the predicaments he often finds himself in — mostly by staging some of the most inventive action scenes attempted in any movie franchise, not just Marvel’s.
One area of the movie that could’ve used a little more creativity is the Quantum Realm – the microscopic alternate dimension where Janet van Dyne has apparently been trapped for decades. After the psychedelic beauty of Doctor Strange, the trippy subatomic landscape feels a tad underwhelming.
Although it ventures further away from Marvel’s traditional villain formula than any film before it, after the universal threat posed by Thanos in Infinity War it’s actually a relief that Ant-Man and The Wasp keeps its stakes personal, rather than galactic. Even so, it still makes sure to never undermine the gravity of what its heroes are fighting for.
Once again, Pena is a scene-stealing standout, but the effervescent Fortson gives him a run for his money; the 10-year-old is given a bit more to do this time around and makes the movie all the better for it. Even Randall Park is allowed to shine in what could’ve easily been a thankless role as Scott’s FBI chaperone, Jimmy Woo — imbuing the long-suffering agent with just the right combination of cynicism and dorkiness to make him pop.
The film’s other foils don’t fare quite as well; while Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) is an intriguing deconstruction of a typical comic book villain there’s a lot left unexplored, which results in her feeling one-dimensional despite Kamen’s best efforts. (Her roles were similarly underwritten in this year’s Tomb Raider and Ready Player One, so if you’re curious about the British actress’ true range, check out Syfy’s underappreciated Killjoys, where she’s spent three seasons playing a much more nuanced badass.) Much like Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne doesn’t get much to chew on as Bill Foster (no relation to Jane) either, but we get enough intriguing hints about his history with Hank and SHIELD to make us wonder if he might show up in Captain Marvel.
But it’s Walton Goggins’ slimy Sonny Burch who feels the most superfluous — the actor’s got charisma to spare, but Sonny seems to exist solely to create roadblocks whenever our heroes look like they might complete their mission too easily, without the script ever really justifying his presence. On the other hand, his convenient appearances do facilitate some of the film’s most hilarious moments, so it’s hard to completely hold those plot contrivances against him.
Luckily, for anyone who was frustrated with Hope’s supporting role in the first film (and complete absence from Civil War), Ant-Man and The Wasp truly gives equal weight to both of its titular heroes; Scott is still our POV character, but Hope provides the film’s momentum, as her drive to rescue her lost mother gives the story its emotional heft and provides plenty of standout moments for Lilly, from Wasp’s kinetic fight sequences to her swagger in dealing with Burch.