2015’s Ant-Man and this month’s sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, can agree on one thing: Scott Lang is a skilled burglar and a dedicated father with a big heart.
But Ant-Man and The Wasp makes another crucial realization about his character: Scott Lang is most enjoyable when surrounded by hyper-competent allies who outclass him on every level. The main goal of the movie isn’t really even his, but just something he’s helping with.
Much like in his endearing appearance in Captain America: Civil War, Scott is not the Big Central Hero of his story — Ant-Man and The Wasp doesn’t really have one — and that simple change makes everything about Marvel’s Ant-Man franchise run like greased lightning.
The Wasp is barely a superhero movie, resting much more comfortably in the realm of sci-fi action comedy, like Flubber but with more car chases and kidnapping. It has none of the whiplashing tone problems that Ant-Man had — more than likely because it didn’t change directors halfway through preproduction.
Its connections to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are merely a light caress. The non-Avengers Marvel movies have been leaning that way ever since Captain America: Civil War faded to the rear-view mirror, but with Ant-Man and The Wasp taking place in San Francisco, not in space or Wakanda or Kamar-Taj, the separation is all the more noticeable. And after the drama of Infinity War, it’s feels ... refreshing.
The Wasp kicks off in what is now nearly a Marvel tradition: A flashback populated by surreally de-aged Hollywood stars. Like a lost copy of a big budget ‘80s thriller that never was, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) recounts the heroic sacrifice of his wife, Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), as first seen in Ant-Man. We have the key to the ignition of our plot engine: Hank and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) believe that Janet is still alive in the quantum realm, and they are going to Do Science until they find her and bring her home.
For plot reasons, Science requires recruiting Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), whose quantum realm adventure at the climax of Ant-Man makes him the only person to have survived the trip. But he has his own (quantum) entanglements: Scott is three days from completing his sentence of house arrest, a condition of the plea deal he copped after breaking the Sokovia Accords to help Captain America and some of his friends fight the rest of Captain America’s friends at an airport in Germany.
Over the course of the film the plot thickens even more, introducing Hannah John-Kamen’s menacing Ghost and Walton Goggins’ amusingly put-upon dealer in illegal science devices, played with an unctuous Southern drawl. Randall Park features as the FBI agent desperately trying to keep tabs on our heroes, and don’t fear: Michael Peña’s Luis returns — as well as the rest of his crew, as the manager and employees of Scott’s new security company.
Ant-Man and The Wasp keeps all of these plates in the air and, in a feat unusual for a Marvel movie (and, indeed, most superhero movies), even manages to stick the landing on its third act. The film’s four factions wind up competing for roughly the same thing in an extended bout of shrinking and enlarging-fueled action that approaches It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World-levels of madcap hilarity.
And the shrinking! The enlarging! The super science!
Director Peyton Reed and crew find real joy in the absurd potential of shrinking as a gimmick in their second, less disrupted-in-pre-production outing. Where Ant-Man mostly used shrinking to make the tiny into huge environments, The Wasp does so much more. Suitcase-sized buildings, dog-sized ants, door-sized salt shakers, a garage of real cars kept inside a Hotwheels case and more. One entire scene appears to exist simply for the delight of making funny situations out of Scott accidentally getting stuck at about the size of a toddler.
Ant-Man and The Wasp feels like the first of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to really lean into the wildness of comic book super science, in the same way that Thor: Ragnarok was the first to lean into the style of Jack Kirby and Guardians of the Galaxy was the first to lean into the cosmic. If it hasn’t been clear yet: Ant-Man and the Wasp is the funniest movie Marvel has made yet.
But it’s not all goofs in here. Heavier emotional lifting, like Ghost’s genuinely dark backstory, Hope and Scott’s “it’s complicated” relationship status and Hope and Hank’s determination to rescue long-lost Janet, is laid out firmly enough to make us believe it but not enough to clash with the silly antics around it. And Ghost is a surprisingly well realized villain.
She’s sympathetic and incredibly formidable, easily outclassing our heroes even two on one. Ghost’s motivation is simple, but her morals are not, and Hannah John-Kamen’s portrayal is firmly on the side of menacing, but with desperation showing through the cracks. The audience might have to make up its own mind about whether she deserves compassion, but Ant-Man and The Wasp clearly thinks she does.
It’s a fun line to ride with a female villain — but Ant-Man and The Wasp is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor in the use of its female characters, which was a major barrier standing between me and my enjoyment of Ant-Man. Hope is the unequivocal Badass Hero of the story, her relationship with her mother front and center. Ghost is a meaty character and even Scott’s daughter Cassie feels less like emotional set dressing and more like a real presence this time around. Janet van Dyne could very well have occupied a passive role in her rescue from decades of wandering the quantum realm, but, well. I won’t spoil one of the movie’s super-science fueled comedic sequences.
As a narrative theme, Ant-Man and The Wasp chose Scott’s need for a partner to help him be a hero. It’s a clear call to the film’s title, which finally gives the Wasp — Marvel’s first female superhero and the only woman among the founding members of the comic book Avengers — the title billing she deserves. But it has a much stronger pattern of father-daughter partnerships, like Scott and Cassie and Hank and Hope, that give Ant-Man and the Wasp its emotional through line.
But that could also be contained in the title: After all, there are two Ant-Mans and two Wasps in the movie. And a team of ex-cons-turned security consultants. And a precocious kid. And her supportive divorced parents and step-dad. It might take a village to raise a child, but Ant-Man and the Wasp shows that it takes a whole anthill to make a hero.