Peyton Reed’s 2015 Ant-Man, at the time, was an anomaly in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whereas every other film up until that point had tried as hard as they could to integrate themselves into the greater MCU through references, cameos, and set-up of future films, Ant-Man instead chose to tell a small-scale, largely self-contained story. Sure, there were references here and there to Tony Stark and the Battle of Sokovia, but for the most part, the film kept to itself. And that approach worked great: Ant-Man is one of the most fun, tonally unique films in the MCU, which had its own identity that wasn’t bogged down by continuity or expectation. It wasn’t without its problems, of course, but it was still a worthy addition to the Marvel timeline. Since then, the film has become a bit more integrated with the rest of the franchise, thanks to Scott Lang’s appearance in Captain America: Civil War, but luckily, Ant-Man and the Wasp returns to the formula that worked so well before: Largely ignoring the rest of the MCU (which is particularly difficult this time around due to the monumental consequences of Infinity War), and simply focusing on its own characters.
In terms of plot, Ant-Man and the Wasp does loom slightly in the shadow of Civil War, with Scott under house arrest due to his involvement with Captain America’s rebellion against the Sokovia Accords. Likewise, Hank Pym and his daughter Hope are both on the run from the government, because of their association with Lang. But other than this initial set-up, the film goes in its own direction. Whereas the first film was a heist movie, its sequel is a rescue mission. Pym and Hope are convinced that they can rescue their long lost wife/mother Janet from the Quantum Realm after Scott’s escape in the previous film, while several interested parties attempt to steal the components necessary to do so. It’s fairly straight-forward, but it works incredibly well for the sake of the character moments that have to happen here.
Tonally, this film is very much in the same vein as its predecessor, with an emphasis on comedy and levity rather than large-scale superhero action. The dialogue is sharp and on-point, which is to be expected with Marvel at this point, and some of the visual gags are guaranteed to have you chuckling to yourself. That being said, the action in this film doesn’t exactly take a back seat to the humor. The fights here are amazing at times, with some of the cleverest and most exciting choreography in the whole of the MCU. In particular, the way the film blends together the size-shifting abilities of its heroes and the phasing abilities of its villain are incredibly impressive. And this film has some genuinely great set pieces, even if it does rely too heavily on car chases at times.
The film really shines when the action stops and the characters play off of each other. There’s some seriously great emotional moments in the film, particularly involving Scott and his young daughter Cassie (which, for my money, is the best relationship in the MCU by far). Scott and Hope also have great chemistry together, as well as with Hank. And of course, Scott’s criminal buddies/sidekicks all work amazingly together for many of the film’s comedic moments.
As you’d expect, the cast is stellar. Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lily are just as compelling and entertaining as they’ve been in their previous MCU appearances. Rudd is as charming, funny, and endearing as ever, and Lily gets a chance to shine as the film’s central badass. Seriously, the Marvel ladies have been killing it lately. Michael Douglas plays a prefect straight man to Rudd’s antics, and even gets a few genuine laughs to himself this go around, as well as some of the film’s most heartwarming moments. Likewise, the supporting cast is equally fantastic, with the highlight once again being Michael Peña’s fast-talking Louis. Newcomers Bill Foster (played by the always-great Laurence Fishburne) and Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer, who seems to have stopped aging somewhere around 2005) are good, but don’t get a lot of attention. Walter Goggins and Randall Park also get some solid laughs here and there. Unfortunately, however, Marvel seems to have fallen back into its villain problem, which seemed like it had been solved in Phase Three of the MCU. While not nearly as weak as Darren Cross/Yellowjacket from the first film, Ant-Man and the Wasp’s central baddies, the phase-shifting Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), while genuinely intimidating and sympathetic at times, suffers from a lack of screen time.
And this is really just a symptom of Ant-Man and the Wasp’s biggest flaw: The plot has a bit too much going on. In the first film, there was really only two real plot threads: The heist on Cross’s research facility (and the resulting fight), and Scott’s struggle to keep parole. Now, we’ve got Scott’s house arrest, Ghost, the ticking clock on finding Hope, the FBI, a criminal organization, and various other one or two scene setbacks. None of these storylines are necessarily bad on their own, they just seem to eventually begin to bog each other down. There’s also a lot of super-convenient deus ex machina moments, especially towards the end, that begin to strain belief even for a superhero film. And, as with the first film, the superpowers and science on display in the world of Ant-Man continue to make absolutely zero sense within the explanations that we’re given.
But besides those few nitpicks, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a fun, light-hearted follow-up to the original, and that serves as an excellent palate-cleanser after the emotionally devastating Infinity War. It’s got great laughs, solid action, and some of the most genuine heart that we’ve seen yet in the MCU. I’d rate it just slightly above the original, if only for the larger cast and the more exciting and creative use of its super-heroics. So check it out, if you want a Marvel superhero film that doesn’t absolutely destroy you like the last one did. But if you’re wondering how this film deals with Infinity War’s aftermath, stick around after the credits. It’s a jaw-dropper. Let’s just say it’s going to be a long wait until Avengers 4.