ANT-MAN AND THE WASP
** SPOILERS **
There's a moment early in director Peyton Reed's Ant-Man and the Wasp that subtly epitomizes why Marvel Studios superhero films work so well. Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) gets double-crossed by a criminal dealer in exotic technology played by Walton Goggins. As his goons set upon her, she transforms into the microscopic but wondrous Wasp and goes to town on the bad guys. Naturally, they open fire while she takes refuge in a chandelier. As she waits for the coast to clear, Hope is breathing heavily - being a superhero and fighting baddies is hard, it takes effort. And even though she has the superpowers to shrink and fly with mechanical wasp wings, Hope is human through and through.
The human moments are the highlight of Ant-Man and the Wasp, which continues the story of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, as affable as ever), the smallest (not officially an) Avenger. The last time we saw Ant-Man, he was in a maximum security prison called the Raft after he was captured for fighting alongside Team Cap in Captain America: Civil War. In the two years since, Scott copped a plea bargain for violating the Sokovia Accords by revealing that his Ant-Man tech came from super scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). As a result of his shrinking technology being unregistered with the UN, Hank and Hope are now fugitives on the run and are not at all happy with Scott. For his part, Scott is under house arrest and, in a spin on a classic cop movie trope, he's only got a few days left until
retirement his sentence is up and he's a free man. But Scott had the best of reasons to give up the Pyms: he did it to be with his adoring 10-year-old daughter Cassie (Abbie Ryder Fortson), the apple of his eye and the best pre-teen in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Family is what Ant-Man and the Wasp is all about, and the plot really thickens when Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer, a bit underutilized), the original Wasp who was lost for 30 years in the other-dimensional Quantum Realm, somehow mind-melds with Scott, who was briefly lost in the Quantum Realm in the first Ant-Man movie. (This is called a Quantum Entanglement but, as Scott wryly notes, the Pyms put the word "Quantum" in front of most of their super-sciencey words.) Since the coordinates to find Janet are in Scott's head, Hank and Hope kidnap Scott and launch a wacky series of shrinky-dink adventures in their quest to find Janet and bring her back home. Hank has constructed a Quantum Tunnel is his secret shrinking lab, and the film overdoses on jokes about how the Pyms can shrink and enlarge just about anything, especially the Hot Wheels cars they drive on several gonzo chases all over San Francisco.
All of the bad guys, including the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), want that shrinking lab, and practically all of the characters play an extended game of hot potato with that lab. Unfortunately, after super villains like Vulture (Michael Keaton), Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), and Thanos (
Michael Josh Brolin), Ghost, a desperate victim of Hank Pym's super science mistakes who can phase through solid matter but is in danger of disappearing into the Quantum Realm entirely, is a bit of a letdown despite John-Kamen's best efforts to make her poignant.
In the meantime, just about everyone from the first Ant-Man comes back for the sequel, including Scott's ex-con cohorts-turned-business partners led by the hilariously motormouthed Luis (Michael Pena). Despite his house arrest and the film's ticking clock trope of him needing to be back home periodically to throw the Feds off his scent, the fact that Scott can be in business with a bunch of ex-cons in a security company literally called X-Con shows that he somehow struck the most lenient plea bargain deal in the short history of the Sokovia Accords. Also back are Judy Greer as Scott's ex-wife and Bobby Cannavale as her cop husband; this time, they amusingly love Scott and can't get enough group hugs. But then, it's incredibly hard not to like and want to hug Scott Lang.
The first Ant-Man was a tidy little (but honestly, probably superior) Marvel superhero movie disguised as a heist film. Ant-Man and the Wasp is more sprawling and ambitious, but considerably less focused. This can be attributed to the film being the product of no less than five screenwriters, including Paul Rudd, who reportedly emphasized Scott's family ties. Meanwhile, Lilly is a firecracker as the Wasp; one senses she has been waiting her whole life to be a superhero (just like Hope) and she makes the most of finally getting to wear a supersuit and sock bad guys. Hope and Scott continue to have chemistry that the film doesn't quite go all the way with, perhaps realizing that this prequel film must eventually synch up with the tragic events of Avengers: Infinity War. Thanos' finger snap does factor into the film, and most of the characters fade to dust in the end - a rather ballsy denoument after a pleasingly lighthearted and fun adventure yarn. But before half the universe dies, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a good time Marvel palate cleanser - which, all things considered, is no small feat.