San Francisco. It is a bleak, ash-covered world. Lost and devoid of hope, survivors futilely search for meaning after a battle at Wakanda changed the universe with a single snap.
Just kidding! Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, the sequel to Peyton Reed’s 2015 film Ant-Man, is set weeks prior to the events of Avengers: Infinity War. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), aka Ant-Man, is at the tail-end of his house arrest, which he landed after helping out Captain America during the events of Captain America: Civil War.
The FBI are constantly looking over Lang’s shoulder while also looking for Lang’s co-conspirators Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Hope and Hank, meanwhile, are working to retrieve the matriarch of their family from the “Quantum Realm,” a place she was trapped in 30 years ago when she donned the size-altering costume of The Wasp.
At the same time, another costumed figure appears (and then disappears, and then appears, and then disappears…she can phase through time and space). This “Ghost” (Hannah John-Kamen) is also interested in the quantum realm technology that Hope and Hank are attempting to harness.
There are also a few mafioso-type businessmen who take an interest. Not to mention that Lang’s old ex-con buddies (Michael Pena, T.I., and David Dastmalchian) are back, and they are working with Scott in a slowly-failing security business.
The synopsis reads like a dense, multi-layered plot that has to balance a lot of balls. But Ant-Man and the Wasp is not plotting. And it is, for the most part, not plodding. Mainly, it is a light-hearted romp through San Francisco, a feature-length cat and mouse chase involving a lot of intricately-timed shrinking and enlarging.
Throw in a warm-hearted family subplot for good measure, and you’ve got the recipe for a fairly good Marvel film. Clearly, Kevin Feige and Marvel knew that they would need a pallet-cleanser after the dour events of Infinity War.
While Ant-Man had a similar purpose—it was the interstitial between the disintegration of the the Avengers that occurred across Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War—that film felt like airy filler.
Ant-Man and the Wasp functions as a Marvel film. But, more importantly, it functions as a well-rounded family film. The dynamic between Lang and his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson) is genuinely emotionally affecting, particularly in one scene involving discussion of superhero sidekicks. And that the main drive of the plot involves the reunion of a family adds to this emphasis on not just a comic book audience, but on a family audience as well.
This sets the film apart from the big spectacle Marvel films like Infinity War. Not to diminish Infinity War, but Ant-Man and the Wasp and Black Panther both take a character-based approach that is less cluttered and ultimately more fulfilling.
Take it as a family film, and it is an enjoyable experience. Take it as a comedy, and it is just as satisfying. Again, this feels like an improvement from Ant-Man. The situational humor is just as effective, but there is also an attention to comic dialogue that seems more successful than in the first film.
Certain scenes stand out in this regard, almost acting as comedic set pieces. There is an interrogation scene involving Pena’s character that is a continuous crowd-pleaser. There is also a scene in which Rudd has to embody a different acting persona in order to sell the comedy.
Overall, it is a pleasingly humorous movie. Is it a great superhero movie? Not particularly.
The plot that we get reads less convoluted on screen because it is executed as an afterthought to what I have already discussed. The main crux of the film is family. The main creative goal of the actors and screenwriters, it appears, is to nail the comedy. The action, while exciting at certain stretches, becomes repetitive and somewhat lackadaisical.
When it comes to the climax, we’re rushed into it. Characters will jump to a new location over the course of a single edit in order to expedite the plot. There’s a lot of moving around for little payoff, leading to a long chase through the streets that goes on for too long.
For a superhero movie, the superhero aspects of the film are the easiest to get glazed-over eyes over. And ultimately, these are the scenes where it is most forgiving if you do zone out. The action does not move the plot, as is the case with other Marvel films; it merely prolongs the plot.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is no action classic. It is no comedy gold mine. And it is certainly no E.T. But there is enough from columns A, B, and C to combine into an enjoyable theatrical experience. The action serves its necessary function. The comedy is more effective than your average action venture. And the thematic substance involving the simple yet endlessly powerful ties of family gives the film more substance than one might expect from this genre.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: B
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)