Two years ago, I watched and wrote about every single film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They’ve made so many more of them since then! So, now I’m watching all of the newer ones before Endgame gets here.
As literally the smallest hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man has always been uniquely suited for smaller stakes stories best used as palette cleansers immediately after the Avengers have taken on the latest planet or universe-threatening menace. After Ultron, we all needed to meet Hank, Scott, and Hope in Ant-Man; after Infinity War, we desperately needed to drop back in on their little world – revisit the search for Janet Van Dyne, finally see how much of a badass Hope could be when given her own super suit. More than anything else, we just needed to laugh and finally take a breath after Infinity War‘s unforgiving carnage.
This was apparent to me the first time I saw Ant-Man and the Wasp in theaters. Rewatching it now for this article, it jumps out at me even more. After so many Marvel films that strive for grandiosity, Ant-Man and the Wasp is endearingly low-key – effortlessly charming in all the ways Infinity War is painstakingly dramatic. However, Ant-Man and the Wasp also features a plot which disappears into the ether the second you walk away from it. Rewatching the film revealed how little I’d actually remembered about the specifics of its story. That’s because Ant-Man and the Wasp happily sells itself on the strength of its sight gags, one-liners, and hangout vibe character interactions. Who cares about the almost complete lack of a real villain when the charm factor is so sky high?
We pick up after the events of Civil War, with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, who must have a portrait turning to dust somewhere in his attic) in the final days of his house arrest. With his brief stint as Ant-Man apparently over, Scott now spends his days entertaining his young daughter Cassie, contributing to best bud Luis’ business proposals, and learning to play the electric drums because wow does he ever have a lot of time to kill.
The tone is set right away as Scott and Cassie playact the finale of the first Ant-Man using delightfully DIY cardboard cutouts throughout his house, including a kickass slide set out the window. When the ultimate prize of their little pretend heist turns out to be a “World’s Greatest Grandma” trophy, we immediately get it: this is going to be a playful, relationship-driven superhero movie, meant to charm more than thrill.
One thing that separates Lang from the other Avengers, with the exception of Spider-Man, is his normalcy. He’s not a super soldier, a Norse god, or even a billionaire genius with great tech. He’s an electrical engineer turned thief, trying to get a security business off the ground and spend time with the daughter he loves.
The suit that can change his size feels like an afterthought in his world, because he has too many mundane pulls on his time. Sure, sometimes he might drive around in a tiny car or travel via flying ant, but it’s all secondary to hanging out with his family and friends.
As directed by the returning Peyton Reed, Ant-Man and the Wasp feels like a film that’s enjoying the company of the characters onscreen, with scenes that stretch in order to show off a plethora of jokes. It would be an issue if the characters weren’t as likable as they are. Everyone on screen seems to be having fun, and the feeling is contagious.
Like any good sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp strives to expand upon the initial movie’s strengths. This means finally escalating Wasp to a co-headlining role. Since Ant-Man made a running joke about how much better Hope (Evangeline Lily) was at mastering the fine art of shrinking and fighting, finally making her the Wasp and increasing her presence and sense of narrative purpose gives the film an extra burst of energy and fun. It gives Scott a female partner everyone around can see is better at his job, and Evangeline Lily remains a delightful screen presence.
Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym remains a source of curmudgeonly fun. Introducing Michelle Pfeiffer as Hope’s presumed lost-in-the-Quantum-Realm mother Janet Van Dyne serves as another chance to emphasize the theme that family is more important than stopping dastardly villains.
Ant-Man and the Wasp’s greatest strength was Infinity War’s biggest weakness. Infinity War had so much plot to unfold onscreen that it had little time for character development. Affection towards them stemmed from previous movies, not really anything that happens to them in Infinity War. Since Ant-Man and the Wasp has a minimal plot, it’s stuffed with quirky, goofy character interactions. Whether it’s Hank Pym asking a child-sized Scott Lang, “how was school today?” or Michael Peña’s rambling recounting of events, the film manages to maintain a sense of zany playfulness even while debris accumulates.
Still, the film has more than a few plot strands to spin, from the Pyms’ attempt to rescue the lost Janet to a double-crossing black market dealer (Walton Goggins, a villain dealt with in spectacularly easy fashion).
We also have Bill Foster (Lawrence Fishburne), Hank’s former partner, and his attempt to stabilize and save the quantumly unstable Ava Starr (Hannah John-Kamen). But really, the film exists to be fun.
Paul Rudd functions as the linchpin, using his easy-going, nice guy charm to create a character audience’s enjoy watching killing time in a house arrest in much the way a teenager would. He’s such a likable, naturally funny screen presence that it’s easy to construct a hang-out, quip-based world around him. And his interactions with his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson, an actually adorable, believable kid in a blockbuster film) remain highlights.
Really, the Ant-Man films work because they possess such distinct personalities, which is ironic for a character based around a species that is defined by its indistinguishability from the rest of the colony. Ant-Man and the Wasp has its share of spectacle and action, but the film is more interested in the characters behind the spectacle, giving them room to breathe and be fully realized. The film also leans more into the ludicrousness of Ant-Man’s powers, right down to a portable lab with a built-in pull handle.
After all, this is a character that could potentially be defeated with a particularly well-placed sneaker stomp, and more than ever Ant-Man and the Wasp seems to enjoy playing in its nonsensical sandbox. It’s slight and easy-going, but that’s what gives it its charm. The film’s a chance to stop and catch your breath before the action of Captain Marvel and the potential prolonged heartbreak of Endgame. It’s amazing how much a sense of fun and a particularly game cast will elevate a film of minor ambitions.