2014 was not a good year for Marvel. That was the year that Avengers: Age of Ultron came out and proved to be a rather unruly mess, and that was followed by a strange little movie called Ant-Man. Ant-Man is to date the third lowest grossing Marvel film after The Incredible Hulk and the first Captain America and to those in the know the final film kind of lived in the shadow of the fact that Edgar Wright was once going to direct it. I wasn’t a fan of that movie either. Of course it was a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie so there was enough quality control going on that it certainly wasn’t “bad,” but there were a lot of elements that didn’t really work and it just seemed like kind of a lame exercise in the grand scheme of things. I was especially put off by one aspect of Ant-Man’s powers, namely the way he could punch people while miniature and have them react as if they’d just been given an uppercut by a heavyweight fighter. That doesn’t make sense. Even if they did have incredible strength while miniature the fact that it’s channeled into a small space like that would make Ant-Man piece into the bad guys like a bullet not hit them with blunt force trauma. It breaks the laws of physics dammit! Still, in 2018 Marvel is on a roll and I suspected that they had enough momentum to improve on their last effort with the sequel Ant-Man and The Wasp.
The film is set two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War but before the events of Avengers: Infinity War. After having been arrested for breaking the Sokovia Accords in Captain America: Civil War Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has been on house arrest this whole time. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) have apparently also been on the run this whole time because it was their technology that was used in Scott’s breach. At the film’s start his sentence is only days away from being over but for some reason he suddenly finds himself having a strange dream about Hank and Hope and in a semi-delirious state calls them using a burner phone that he had hidden and tells them about it. Something like a day later he’s suddenly tranquilized and moved to a secret lab that Hank and Hope have been building where they hope to enter sub-atomic space to rescue Hank’s lost wife. But not long after they all find themselves in a run-in with a mobster named Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and then they’re accosted by a strange masked combatant that seems to phase in and out of reality and it becomes clear that they’re going to be in the fight of their life.
The title of Ant-Man and The Wasp gives equal billing to Hope but don’t be fooled, this is still very much a story told from the perspective of Ant-Man, which is perhaps to be expected given that he’s more of an audience surrogate than Hope. Hope is given a costume this time around and gets to participate in the action sequences as The Wasp but narratively she more or less shares her storyline with her father, who could just as easily be considered a co-star with the other two. That aside the movie generally has a clearer picture of its characters than the original film did and the fact that it has its origin story stuff out of the way gives it a lot more time to act as something of a romp. Most of the comic relief cast from the previous movie like Michael Peña and T.I. are back and Randal Park has been added as a delightfully nerdy FBI Agent who’s meant to be overseeing Scott’s house arrest and just steals every scene he’s in. People who are frustrated by the fact that so many superhero movies tend to end with fights against super-villains that are about to set loose some world ending calamity will likely enjoy the fact that this movie involves a fight against some rather low level thugs led by Walton Goggins (who’s very much in “Vice Principals” mode here) and even the more traditional superhero foil called Ghost proves to be less eeeevilll than most Marvel villains.
In general Ant-Man and The Wasp is a clear improvement over its predecessor, it seems to have a bigger budget, it more clearly knows what it wants to be, and its cast has gelled considerably. That said I still think this is one of Marvel’s weaker franchises, some people might like the film’s lighter tone, but I think Marvel movies are already plenty light to begin with and the Ant-Man movies bring that lightness to the point of feeling downright disposable. This one in particular seems to really think that its tone can excuse away some pretty obvious plot-holes like the FBI’s incredible inability to keep tabs on Scotts home. This all feels particularly inconsequential given the ending of Avengers: Infinity War, which only really comes up here during Marvel’s patented post-credits sequence, but the film otherwise does not feel terribly important to the greater MCU storyline. The decision to release this a mere two months after Infinity War seems particularly curious given that there are no Marvel movies lined up at all for the fall and I’m guessing that there would have been a much bigger shortage of escapist entertainment like this during that season. Having said all that, I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that this isn’t worth seeing because it probably is at least if you’re an MCU fan. These movies are basically never bad and this one isn’t either. It’s a neat action movie and most audience members will get what they came for.
***1/2 out of Five