Directed By: Peyton Reed
Release Date: July 6, 2018
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas
Life hasn't been easy for Ant-Man. Since we last saw Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) back in 2016's Captain America: Civil War, which saw the heroic ex-con gleefully heading to Germany to help Cap, he's been under house arrest, having had to give up his superhero identity as part of the Sokovia Accords. But when we catch up with him in Ant-Man and the Wasp, he's finally on the home stretch of his two year sentence, mere days away from having the ankle bracelet that has kept him locked up at home removed.
Unfortunately for him, he's called back into action after having an alarming, unexpected dream about his time in the Quantum Realm back in Ant-Man, an event that puts him back into the lives of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), both of whom have been working on a way to get into the Quantum Realm to rescue Hank's long-lost wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), and have cut ties with Scott over his having taken the Ant-Man suit to Germany without their permission. As the trio work to solve the mystery of Scott's dream – which may or may not have something to do with Janet – and prep a journey into the Quantum Realm, though, a pair of new threats pop up in their lives: Sleazy criminal Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), two people who want Hank's tech for their own reasons and whose interference in the group's plans may lead to Janet being lost forever.
To put it mildly, Ant-Man and the Wasp has very small scale ambitions. Back in 2015, the lighthearted heist movie that was Ant-Man was a refreshing tonal cleanse for the Marvel Cinematic Universe following the more sobering Avengers: Age of Ultron, and so, too, does its sequel serve a similar purpose. Just over two months ago, Avengers: Infinity War embedded itself in pop culture with an ending that reshaped the MCU and left audiences' heads spinning the world over with an incredibly depressing ending that saw Josh Brolin’s Thanos successfully wiping out half of the universe's population, numerous heroes included. As such, the Ant-Man sequel, in all its unapologetically fun glory, arrives at just the right time, easy to dismiss on the surface as inconsequential for not picking up where that film left off or carrying the same kind of stakes but vitally important once you break it down, both for reminding us that this franchise is still meant to be fun and for introducing crucial elements that will come into play in 2019's Avengers 4.
In doing so, the Ant-Man sequel wisely sidesteps addressing how the world was affected by Infinity War – something we'll have to wait until next year to see – by turning the clock back a few days before the events of that film, explaining why Scott, Hope, and all the rest were absent from the big, universe-changing event without losing its focus on telling a great story first and foremost, one that uses its smaller scale to weave a tale where family matters most, whether it's Hank and Hope's desperate drive to find Janet or Scott's daughter Cassie's pride that her dad is Ant-Man.
And gluing it all together is Scott himself, a man who wants to do right by everyone in his life. On one hand, with his house arrest almost up, which means he'll be free to be back in Cassie's life full-time, he doesn't want to do anything that could endanger that freedom; on the other, he wants to make up for the damage his actions in Civil War caused Hope and Hank. The world may not be in peril – at least as far as these characters know for the moment – but the stakes are no less important for Scott here, as Cassie is his world, and one screw up could cause that all crashing down. Rudd really gets to remind us all here why Scott is worth rooting for not just as a superhero but as an individual: Unlike the Tony Starks or Steve Rogers of the world we know who battle larger than life threats, all Scott wants to do is be a father worthy of his daughter's adoration, and some of the best moments in Ant-Man and the Wasp result from Scott and Cassie simply getting to be father and daughter.
As for the other father/daughter duo in the film, Michael Douglas gets a lot more to actively do this time around – to the sequel's benefit – and his prickly, ever-agitated persona is still as entertaining as it was back in 2015. But it's Evangeline Lilly who really gets to step up to the plate for the sequel, with Hope donning a suit of her own as The Wasp and stealing the show. It's been a long time coming for The Wasp to completely join the MCU, and the wait has been worth it, as her abilities – she can both shrink and fly – pair well with Ant-Man's and lead to some stellar action sequences, whether it's an early battle with Sonny Burch's men or a chase sequence through the streets of San Francisco in the third act. Lilly is clearly relishing every second of finally being able to unleash Hope, and the energy she brings to the table with every confident smirk or witty exchange with Scott is guaranteed to make fans the world over excited to see her continue to take on a (hopefully) larger role going forward.
Of course, some of the usual suspects return this time around, including Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, T.I., and David Dastmalchian, but the standout is once again Michael Pena's fast-talking Luis, who – big surprise – gives way to some of the film's biggest laughs, particularly during a sequence that capitalizes on his storytelling capabilities that were highlights of the first film. We also get to meet a whole roster of newcomers aside from Burch, Ghost, and Janet, like Hank's former partner – or assistant, depending on who you ask – Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), and Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), the federal agent assigned to monitoring Scott's house arrest. It's a great cast, and Woo in particular proved a popular addition to the franchise going off of how my audience responded to him, but my only complaint is that many of them fall victim to being underwritten and underutilized, characters fueled by great performances but held back simply by virtue of being there primarily to supplement our heroes' story, something I only mention because I personally would've loved (and expected) more from them, particularly Ghost and Janet.
Despite that, it's hard to really complain about it when the film overall is just so infectiously entertaining. The action is creative and fun, particularly in the third act when nearly all the major players come together for a massive chase that sees cars the size of Hot Wheels zooming through San Francisco and Giant-Man making a very public appearance, and specific effects like Ghost's perpetual phasing or how Douglas, Pfeiffer, and Fishburne are de-aged for flashbacks are effectively slick. It also feels as though the sequel doubled down on the humor, even more confident in its ability to make people laugh than before, from simple running jokes like Scott's various pun-filled names for the ants that help him out, the magic tricks he learned during house arrest, or a debate about what constitutes a truth serum to full-blown sequences such as when Scott and Hope are forced to infiltrate an elementary school, with Scott's suit malfunctioning and reducing him to the size of a nine-year-old child, something that could've crashed and burned in concept but soars in execution for being delivered with such wonderfully tongue-in-cheek zest.
All added up, I have no qualms in saying that Ant-Man and the Wasp is a far better film than its predecessor. It takes everything that worked in that film, from the clever action to its sense of humor to its small scale sensibilities, ditches what didn't, like a villain with boring motivation or Hope being a sideline character, and reassembles everything into a package that proves why these characters deserve the little corner of the MCU they've carved out for themselves, all while cementing how important they're going to be for the franchise at large going into Avengers 4 and beyond. On the spectrum of MCU second outings, it falls closer to Captain America: The Winter Soldier than to Iron Man 2 or Thor: The Dark World, and stands as another win on the franchise's incredible list of knockouts over the last few years, a small but vital piece of the larger puzzle that's fun, exciting, and genuinely engrossing for intentionally setting its sights low only to excel in the process.
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