Here we are, at the third and final Marvel film of 2018. Between my seven part series looking back at the first 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and my Avengers: Infinity War review, and the episode of I Like to Movie Movie I guested on, I’ve put enough words out there on the current state of superheroes–and the MCU in particular–that I don’t think it makes sense to treat Ant-Man and the Wasp as a(nother) referendum on the whole idea.
And what a relief! For anyone feeling a little bit of fatigue at number and clip at which films come to cinemas, this movie could very well be the antidote. Ant-Man and the Wasp improves on the first film by every measure while remaining a feel-good viewing experienced by being light-hearted and fun. It could almost be a hangout movie if there weren’t so many car chases.
Picking up roughly two years after Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is finishing up his two years of house arrest (referenced by Black Widow in Infinity War). His ankle bracelet has been keeping him confined, and he’s not allowed contact with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) or Hope (Evangeline Lily), who are also on the run from the government thanks to the Sokovia Accords from Civil War, so they might not be on speaking terms anyway. The film gives a quick recap of these events, but references them freely, trusting the audience to remember the major events of that film in addition to the first Ant-Man. While under house arrest, Scott is focusing on being a good dad to Cassie (Abby Rider Forston) as well as a good extended family member to his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and her beau Paxton (Bobby Cannavale). It is very adorable to the point of being.a little gross. Scott is also using his downtime to help the ramble-mouthed Luis (Michael Peña) and the other ex-cons from the first film start a security company.
Meanwhile, Hank and Hope are working on building something that will give them better access to the Quantum Realm glimpsed at the end of the first film in order to try and rescue Hank’s wife Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) who has been missing there for 30 years. They run across the paths of two new foes, Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) and Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) who each want Pym’s technologies for their own reasons.
It is amazing how complicated it feels writing out all of the setup for this film, while the film itself lays it out so elegantly that it feels like a series of complications rather than one master plan unfolding. More superhero films should take this model (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 uses a similar structure). These films are just more enjoyable when it isn’t the machinations of one individual causing the plot to move forward, but rather the natural consequences of choices the characters have made. It gives the film a snowball effect while only needing to stop a few times for exposition, and never requires a villain to monologue.
The title of the film is almost a misnomer, as in it could (should?) be called The Wasp and Ant-Man. While Scott is still at the center of it the film gets a lot of mileage out of surrounding him with scientific geniuses we know as well as newcomer Bill Foster (Lawrence Fishburne). Putting the goofy character at the center of an ensemble film like this is a risky venture, but Rudd’s natural warmth and charm make it seem natural. Of course, that is not at all to downplay how good Evangeline Lily is as Hope. I’ve always felt that she would make a great action heroine. While.underserved on Lost (Kate always had the worst flashbacks), and even the previous Ant-Man film (that was a weird hair choice), here she is finally given at least 50% of the spotlight she deserves. She really ought to be the lead in these films, as her character is extremely compelling. She is driven by loss, her rocky relationship with her dad, and Lily plays all of this equally well, including balancing a character who is unshakably confident even while always needing to prove that she is as smart and confident as anyone else, if not more. After this film she is definitely one of my favorite characters in the entire MCU.
The perfect pacing and the elevating of Evangeline Lily are just two of the reasons why this sequel outshines the original in every way. The other big factor is that the comedy in this film is far tighter. It’s more restrained in frequency, but just about every single joke in the film lands perfectly. They even find an amazing sequence for Peña to shine with the character’s trademark storytelling that does not feel like a complete rehash of the gag from the first film. The film never feels like it is stretching for a joke, and even when the humor undercuts the drama, it does so in a way that is far more situational than it is about cartoon gags (looking at you, Thor: Ragnarok). And I really can’t get enough of Michael Douglas as a cardigan-adorned curmudgeon. #lifegoals
The third major issue I had with the first Ant-Man was with its villain. I still have no idea what Corey Stoll was going for in that film. Ant-Man and the Wasp has Ghost and Burch posing different kinds of threats to our heroes, but the world isn’t at stake here. There’s no threat to the greater world than that of the characters. But what is at risk are the people they care about. Each character has clearly-defined motivations that directly affect the course of the story. There’s no central villain plot, just things that get in the way of our heroes trying to execute their rescue mission. That simplicity combined with the crystal clear character work makes this film extremely satisfying.
Ant-Man and the Wasp shows that Marvel is able to learn from its missteps. This feels like a course correction from a film that was good, but not great. Payton Reed really made this film his own, and it has a unique vibe within the MCU as well. Scott’s family life is a little bit pushed to the edges of the film, but what is here works well, skirting by on Rudd’s affable persona.
Maybe because I didn’t even have time to get hyped up for this film, or because revisiting the first Ant-Man crystalized my issues with that film, but I was blown away by how much I enjoyed the film. Or maybe I just like heist-y films with tiny cars.
Ant-Man and the Wasp opens in Philly theaters today.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.