Movie Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp
By Matthew Huntley
July 18, 2018
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is typical in a lot of ways—as a superhero adventure; as a big-budget summer blockbuster; as the latest bridge (in a seemingly endless line of bridges) connecting all the various Marvel Comics Universe movies. But it's each of these types in a wonderfully entertaining and pleasing way. As I watched it, I was either smiling, laughing, or simply basking in the pure escapism it provides. Of all the Marvel superhero movies, this is arguably one of the most jolly and fun-filled, humbled and relaxed. At the end of the day, it serves as a veritable break from all the seriousness going on in the world and reminds us what summer moviegoing is all about.
This came as a bit of a surprise since I wasn't terribly impressed by the first “Ant-Man” (2015), which I felt stuck too rigidly and uninterestingly to the standard superhero origin story, particularly of the Marvel variety. I didn't leave the theater thinking the character would be developed far beyond that of a future sidekick or cameo, with just a few lines here and there in future “Avengers” movies. That was, after all, what happened in “Captain America: Civil War.”
But “Ant-Man and the Wasp” squashed my reservations that Ant-Man and his cohorts couldn't be taken somewhere exciting all on their own. His appearance in “Civl War” may have been short-lived and not especially memorable (then again, why would it need to be otherwise?), but it did set up the primary conflict of this latest adventure, which finds Scott Lang, a.k.a. Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), under house arrest in San Francisco after the events of “Civil War,” during which he violated the Sokovia Accords. FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) explains his transgression to Scott's eight-year-old daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) a whole lot better and funnier than I ever could, so I'll let you hear the details from him.
With Scott's freedom just days away, he thinks he can pass the remaining time by continuing to learn close-up magic, playing the electronic drums, reading sad novels, and bowling with a plastic ball and pins in his hallway. But suddenly he has what feels like a dream only isn't. By entering and returning from the “quantum realm” at the end of the first movie (basically shrinking down to subatomic size), his mind was left open, if you will, and he's now serving as the conduit between Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) and the outside world.
Janet is the assumed dead wife of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the original Ant-Man, and mother to Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Hank's once-estranged but now reconnected daughter and Scott's ex-girlfriend (she would be the Wasp in the title). Near the end of the Cold War, Janet and Hank both shrunk down to insect size to disarm a nuclear missile, but only Janet went subatomic, and when she entered the quantum realm, she never returned. Scott's ability to come back, however, reignited hope in Hank that Janet may still be alive, and he and Hope have since been engineering a tunnel in Hank's lab that could potentially allow them to go into the quantum realm and bring Janet home.
Again, I leave it to the characters to explain the plot details. A whole lot of science mumbo-jumbo is spoken at a very rapid pace in this movie, although we're hardly supposed to take it seriously. The important thing to know is Hank's lab and the tunnel are quite the hot commodities. Both serve as this story's MacGuffins and are what any of the various characters are either losing, trying to retrieve, or just waiting to get up and running. Hank and Hope need them to rescue Janet; evil technology dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins, performing his nefarious Southern crime boss shtick) wants to steal them because he sees their huge financial potential on the black market; and the mysterious, masked Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who can make her body intangible and thus walk through any solid matter, wants access to the quantum realm so she can utilize its energy in order to heal her pain and make her whole again. At one point, after Ghost steals Hank's lab (which, if you recall, can shrink down to the size of an airplane carryon), Hank visits his old colleague, Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), because he needs advice on how to track its location. This rekindles an old feud between the two scientists and it turns out Foster is playing a bigger role in the recent events than Hank ever suspected.
Meanwhile, poor Scott is being used by Janet to convey messages to Hank and Hope (whether he wants to or not) and simply trying to back home before the feds know he's in violation of his house arrest. He's also trying to land an important client for his new security consulting business, X-Con, which he's started with his former prison pals Luis (Michael Peña), Dave (Tip 'T.I.' Harris) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian), all of who return from the first film, and good thing, too, because their banter and interaction render some of the movie's biggest laughs.
If “Ant-Man and the Wasp” isn't running, it's at least always jogging. It's impressive, given the nimiety of Marvel superhero movies these days (there have been three so far this year alone, not including this one), that this installment is able to stand on its own with such distinct energy, charisma, humor, and heart. Maybe the difference between a Marvel superhero movie of this type and, say, “Black Panther” or “Avengers: Infinity War,” is its more frivolous nature and rather flippant attitude when it comes to connecting the overall greater Marvel narrative. It “lets go,” if you will, of the overblown significance audiences have ascribed to the MCU saga and cares less about leaving a legacy and more about functioning as pure entertainment.
Don't get me wrong—I relish in the more thoughtful and earnest Marvel superhero adventure as much as the next guy, but the light-headedness aspect of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” makes it uncommonly refreshing. It also delivers some truly inspired comic moments, including a hilarious flashback sequence narrated by Luis after he's given truth serum, despite Burch's hired goons telling him there's no such thing. Peña has a field day talking at breakneck speed while assuming the roles of the other actors. This is an old gimmick, but editors Dan Lebental and Craig Wood, along with Peña's delivery, really reinvigorate it.
Another convention that's been re-imagined is the standard streets-of-San Francisco-car-chase, which we've seen time and again in a variety of action movies, but this time there are so many players involved and the special effects—both here and throughout the film—are so exquisite, the whole sequence feels novel. One conflict of the plot the writers especially utilize is Ant-Man's suit malfunctioning, resulting in him constantly changing sizes involuntarily. This gives the filmmakers a lot of room to play and we get to see him big, small, medium. At one point he's using a truck like a bobsled and another he's trying to hitch a ride on one of his ant soldiers before it gets eaten by a pigeon.
And yet, despite the action, mayhem and multitude of characters, all of which director Peyton Reed juggles and brings together seamlessly, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” never feels bloated or too hyperkinetic. It has a lilting and consistent energy but also makes room for surprisingly effective emotion. There are tender moments shared between Scott and his daughter, such as when Cassie volunteers to be his superhero partner, as well as between Hank and Janet, and even Janet and Ghost. This should speak to how well-rounded the movie is and that it's able to please viewers on multiple levels.
In the end, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” does ultimately serve as a bridge to the next Marvel adventure, but for the most part, it exists independently and speeds along on its own, accomplishing what we hoped it would and more, which was to provide a two-hour window during which we could kick back and check out. What an ideal summer movie.