Given the core-shaking reaction evoked from THAT finale sequence in Avengers: Infinity War, you’d be forgiven for letting it slip your mind that there are other Marvel stories to tell that aren’t directly related to Thanos’s dust-inducing carnage. The final offering from the studio for the year, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a considerably more low-key affair, operating as its own product, delighting in sight gags and witty dialogue as it cruises along; simply put, it’s the breath of fresh air audiences need after the one-two punch of Black Panther sternness and Infinity War shock.
Referencing the events of Captain America: Civil War, where our titular Ant-Man aka Scott Lang (the always congenial Paul Rudd) travelled to Germany to fight alongside Captain America (or “Cap” as he so affectionately refers to him) in a suitably iconic airport battle waged between Marvel big-hitters with conflicting agendas, this sequel lays out Scott’s house arrest existence after being captured, imprisoned, tried and convicted. He’s three days away from freedom which, in movie-speak, indicates his last 72 hours are going to be when he’s needed the most.
Enter The Wasp aka Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly, losing the pageboy hair style from the original but none of her sass) and her father Hank (Michael Douglas), now both wanted fugitives thanks to Scott’s impromptu trip to Germany and his use of the Ant-Man suit which violated superhero restrictions. Under any other circumstance Hope and Hank wouldn’t need Scott in such urgency, but due to him shrinking to subatomic proportions and returning safely from the quantum realm (as seen in the final moments of the first Ant-Man), Hank believes that his beloved wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), the original Wasp, could still be alive after 30 years being lost within the same quantum realm Scott survived.
Whilst the urgency in wanting to save Janet is understandable (there’s something so grand about a Marvel movie essentially basing itself around how far people will go for the wonder that is Michelle Pfeiffer), and there’s a supremely endearing scene where she communicates to Hank and Hope through Scott – meaning Rudd literally channels Pfeiffer – much of Ant-Man and the Wasp‘s tension comes from the figures and actions taking place outside the quantum realm arc: namely mafioso-type thug Sonny Birch (Walton Goggins), who wants to steal Hank’s technology and sell it to the highest bidder, the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), whose similar desire for Hank’s tech runs on a deeper, more emotional level, and the overall gravity of Scott’s house arrest which, if violated, will result in 20 years imprisonment, meaning every little set-back experienced throughout is added tautness.
Like the original film, Rudd’s boyish charm takes Ant-Man and the Wasp further than it should go, and he’s an absolute delight to watch as Marvel’s most incompetent hero. Counterbalancing that is Lilly, who gets the prestigious honour of playing the first female superhero in the Marvel canon to have her name in the title, who’s every bit his superior in terms of both brains and brawn, yet the film very much operates as an equal playing field for both Ant-Man and the Wasp, allowing the duo to bounce off each other whilst maintaining their own identities. As much as this is their film though, Ant-Man and the Wasp succeeds off the back of its support players, namely Michael Pena as Scott’s ex-con bestie Luis, who once again races through the movie with an energetic spark that refuses to dim and, thankfully, never over-saturates; the return of his “he-said, she-said” recapping of events proving a winning ingredient.
Though the eleventh hour shuffle of original director Edgar Wright vacating the first Ant-Man in favour of Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Down With Love) earned rightful worry from the devoted masses, the latter’s handling of that film’s playful visuals and sparkling script put a lot of initial naysayers in their place, and for round two Reed seems even more in control of his outlandish surroundings. Playing fast-and-loose with technology that allows tiny objects like a salt shaker to grow to giant proportions, and building complexes to shrink to the size of a suitcase, Reed finds a healthy balance in finding the fun, but never overdoing it to the point that we lose our investment. There’s always been a certain level of emotion present throughout the Marvel timeline (Spider-Man’s “goodbye” in Infinity War, anyone?) and though Ant-Man and the Wasp is unlikely to linger with audiences as strongly as other titles, it perhaps showcases the purest forms of heart and humour the MCU has to offer.