“Ant-Man and the Wasp,” a sequel to 2015’s “Ant-Man” and the first entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe since it was shaken by “Avengers: Infinity War” earlier this year. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is notable in several ways: one of the film’s stars, Paul Rudd, played a significant role in creating the screenplay for the film. Moreover, this is the first movie in the MCU’s history to feature a female hero in a titular role. Paul Rudd returns as Scott Lang aka Ant-Man, and Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne takes on the role of the Wasp. The cast expands in to include Michelle Pfeiffer, Randall Park, Laurence Fishburne and Hannah John-Kamen.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” opens with Scott handling the consequences of his team-up with Captain America in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” including a rift between Lang and the family who made him Ant-Man, Dr. Hank Pym and his daughter Hope. A reunion is forced after Hank and Hope discover that they need Scott’s knowledge of the quantum realm to complete their quest to recover Hope’s mother, Janet van Dyne, the original Wasp. Naturally, they run into trouble along the way, including a girl who can walk through walls, a Southern conman and a slightly doofy FBI agent.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is refreshingly fun and low stakes after April’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” It’s wacky twists and hand-waving come from quantum physics and mechanics rather than intergalactic space stones. Hope’s transformation into the Wasp almost makes up for how little she got to do in “Ant-Man.” Scott is simultaneously goofy and naive, while maintaining the underhandedness of an experienced criminal. His crew–Luis, Kurt and Dave–return as his partners in a new legit security operation, and, as usual, Michael Peña brings the jokes. Hannah Jones-Kamen’s turn as Ghost provides a lot of fresh takes for a Marvel “villain.” First of all, her frequent flickering in and out of reality make for some truly unique visuals. Second, her motivation as a character is so undeniable that it’s almost hard to see her as true villain. The film seems to recognize that this story doesn’t fit the Big Bad model, and instead introduces several characters as barriers to reaching Janet van Dyne in the quantum realm.
My quibbles with this movie are pretty minor. It falls into the zero-sum trope that makes even scratching the surface morally dubious. Since the stakes for Hope, Hank and Scott are literally saving one single life, anyone who dies in the course of the movie negates the mission. Given Ghost’s stake in accessing the quantum realm, there are significant moments of the movie where the audience doubts whether Ant-Man and the Wasp are in the right. The climax of the second act is a thrilling and well-shot chase sequence through the streets of San Francisco, featuring car switches, shrinking gags and just crazy amounts of destruction. This is a little incongruous with the arc of the rest of the MCU towards a more consequence minded hero, but is nevertheless a good time. Finally, as a frothy chaser to the last MCU wallop, it is a little long, even at just over two hours.
Peyton Reed’s direction is both action packed and joyous. The movie is well aware of its purpose and packs a lot of jokes per minute, including some truly delightful visual and pantomime gags. Evangeline Lilly’s turn as the Wasp builds on the warriors of Wakanda in adding multidimensional human women to the ranks of spys, deities and love-interests that have otherwise made up the female MCU canon. Finally, without spoilers, the film does nod to the events of “Avengers: Infinity War,” but that movie is not required viewing. Overall, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is well worth seeing.