Ant-Man and the Wasp is a small film. No that isn’t me making the lamest joke this side of the chicken discovering how zebra crossings work, but rather a statement of intent from Marvel, one that both works in Ant-Man’s favour and against it. Contextually it was wise to follow up the racially charged Black Panther and the universe destroying operatics of Infinity War, with something quieter, more personal and a lot lot lighter. Marvel have always been shrewd when it comes to release patterns, judging the potential fatigue audiences might feel if fed the same large scale superhero fests over and over again. It’s no mistake that the original Ant-Man also followed the last Avengers team-up Age of Ultron. After all the wisecracking, franchise colliding explosiveness we all could do with something much less heavy. It certainly helps that on a second go around the film does not have the overhanging shadow of creative malaise that plagued pre-release talk for the first film. (In a nutshell Edgar Wright out, Peyton Reed in)
Reed returns here and you sense a confidence within his characters and his world, albeit one that perhaps starts a little shaky. Wasp opens with the trademark Marvel prologue, one set in the past as we witness Michael Douglas’s de-aged Hank Pym save the world alongside his wife Janet. Smartly hidden when seen in the first film, so as to cover the fact that nobody had been cast, here she takes centre stage and is graced by the performance of Michelle Pfeiffer. It is a fun opening but one marred by the slight creepiness of a digitally de-aged Douglas and Pfeiffer (her smile somehow comes across as closer to IT than friendly mother). Pace wise it also lands with a slight clunkiness, mainly due to a laboured narration by Hank which undermines what we see on screen by pretty much describing it first hand. Cue that booming Marvel logo and things brighten up.
This smallness is accentuated by the fact that the plot is relatively slim. Two years have passed since Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, wonderfully deadpan as ever and yes seemingly never ageing) revealed Hank’s technology to the world by joining Captain America as he fought his Civil War. In turn forcing him into house arrest and alienating a very much miffed Hank and daughter Hope. Marvel have always nicely built events from previous sequels or team-up films into jumping off points for their later MCU instalments, and here is no different. You don’t need to have seen Civil War to understand it but it is just enough to reward those who have absorbed everything they put out. Days to go before his police tag is removed and he can finally head out into the outside world, he has a vision of Janet within the Quantum Realm (prepare to hold on, this film uses a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo) and finds himself back within the sights of his old crime fighting partners. Into the mix there is a sleazy arms dealer (Walter Goggins-underused) and a mysterious villain named Ghost, predominately for her ability to phase through any object.
Refreshingly none of these characters have any grander scheme than emotional fulfilment, well besides the arms dealer, which makes a change for the token world domination and colossal destruction that so permeated their earlier films. Lang seeks to just be the best person he can be in his adorable daughter’s eyes, Hope and Hank desire to find Janet, and even Ghost turns out to be less a villain more just a damaged girl desperate to fix herself. Hannah John-Kamen captivates as Ghost, reaching affecting rivers of emotion that warm you to her, not to mention handling the inventive action scenes with aplomb. Speaking of strong female performances, Evangeline Lilly is MVP here as the newly suited up Wasp. Physically balletic, emotionally vulnerable and bantering with Rudd like we’re watching some sort of screwball comedy. Each of the MCU films attempt to tackle a different genre, and if the first Ant-Man was following the heist movie playbook, Ant-Man and the Wasp is straight up comedy.
Minute for minute Wasp is by far the funniest film in the MCU, Reed maximises his cast’s not inconsiderable talents within a punchy script (written partly by Rudd), and if any proof were needed that this is foremost a comedy the trailers manage to show off all the action whilst hiding the biggest laughs. Of course most of those emanate from the highlight of the first film, Michael Pena’s hyper verbal Luis. Going straight in setting up a home security company with Lang, as well as David Dastmalchian’s droll Kurt and T.I’s wisecracking Dave, Pena is an energetic mouthful of insanity. His infamous verbose monologues are less prevalent this time but when they do come it is immensely satisfying.
The big laughs make up for the surprising lack of action. Reed saving most of his carnage for a delightfully inventive car chase through San Francisco. Scott’s ability to grow and shrink is maximised here, played for laughs almost too much. After his sizing belt malfunctions for the fifth time you may find a desire for something else to laugh at, although the sight of a child-sized Paul Rudd running about is endlessly hilarious. Its comedic leanings and slight plot also allow the film to move at a decent lick, aided by a bouncy Christophe Beck score. However the film can never quite escape its smallness, maintaining a consistent level of mildly emotional comedic banter yet never elevating itself into something truly special. There are no big emotional revelations or devastating twists, no Black Panther style thematic depths, it is light, frothy and fun. It feels like lesser Marvel but when even lesser Marvel is this much fun then you know they’re doing something right. Oh and the post-credit scene is mouthwateringly teasing for events to come in Avengers 4.
Verdict: Ant-Man and the Wasp has big laughs, cleverly staged action and a cast maxing out their comedic charisma, yet is wrapped up in a package that is strictly mid-level volume.