It’s telling that Ant-Man and the Wasp has a multitude of sub-plots running parallel to each other and yet, not one of them registers or leaves a lasting impact. That might have even been the intention as Marvel Studios’ latest outing eschews cataclysmic stakes for a fun, more confined narrative that rushes along at breakneck speed as these parallel storylines collide and intertwine with each other for the bulk of the movie’s running time. All the same, it appears that the filmmakers have gone too low-stakes with the plot for you to barely get a sense that anything is at risk and you can certainly predict how things will turn out. That the biggest surprise or shock or even talking point in the movie is how the mid-credits scene plays out is testament to the stickiness of the film’s plot.
At its core, Ant-Man and the Wasp revolves around the rescue of Hank Pym’s wife Janet Van Dyne who, as we discovered during the events of Ant-Man, had gone subatomic in one of their missions and had since disappeared into the Quantum Realm. However when newly recruited Ant-Man Scott Lang manages to return back from the realm unharmed, Hank’s belief that Janet could still be alive is rejuvenated. Together with his daughter Hope Van Dyne, he devises a quantum tunnel that will allow them to enter the realm under a protective (ant-?) copter and bring Janet home.
In order to launch the quantum tunnel, they need a key piece of technology (a.k.a. a MacGuffin) that is held by black market technology dealer Sonny Burch. An arrogant, cocky and egocentric dealer, Sonny proposes a larger alliance with Hope to tap into the secrets of quantum-tech only for Hope to reject his proposition. He double-crosses her, only for Hope to kick into Wasp gear and beat the sh*t out of him and his goons. Hank and Hope then head to Hank’s old pal Bill Foster with whom he had a fallout during his days at S.H.I.E.L.D.. Foster helps them the best he can, despite his grudge over Hank’s attitude reminiscent of Hank’s multiple evil personalities from the comics.
As for Scott Lang, if you thought his actions during Captain America: Civil War won’t have any consequences, think again. Lang is put under house arrest where he spends most of his 2 years, although his mended relationship with his ex-wife and her husband mean he’s allowed more frequent visitation to Cassie giving father-daughter some time to bond. Those are some of the more touching sequences in the movie and parallel Hank and Hope’s relationship to a very small extent in that both fathers adore their children and look to do them proud. They however form only a small part of the movie that is otherwise filled with gags and action sequences.
Let’s get to the good parts first. The movie has some wacky action set-pieces that quite simply, knock it out of the part in terms of creativity and the sheer kinetic nature of their execution. Among the highlights are Wasp’s introduction in which she single-handedly and yet convincingly takes out an army of bad-guys all by herself and the climax, which is an elaborate extended sequence featuring vehicular chases, loads of quick shrinking and expanding and some nice cool Hot Wheels action that the kids are sure to love. The suit’s abilities are used to great effect and Lang’s and Hope’s mastery of them mean that changing scale is almost as second nature to them as thinking.
What bothers me is that despite a technically sound production and the promise of character unions and interactions, Ant-Man and the Wasp doesn’t really do much with its ensemble. Most of the movie is a wild goose chase for a MacGuffin that is used to bring back Janet, even though Michelle Pfeiffer is there in the movie for mere minutes in a role that amounts to nothing more than a glorified cameo. And without spoiling anything, even those few minutes come to a screeching halt by the time the mid-credits scene is done with. Characters just are, and don’t really go anywhere in terms of logical or exciting developments. Hope is a fully-formed fighter while Lang is his usual goofy self. The trio of Luis, Dave and Kurt are hilariously wasted and while Luis does get his moments to shine (which Michael Pena makes full use of), the others are merely delegated to cameo status, just there for the sake of continuity.
The entire plan and rescue attempt concocted to bring Janet back feels hackneyed at best. There’s the familiar sense of fake tension, the countdown to try and induce a fledgling attempt at raising the stakes but to no avail, and we end the movie knowing as much about these characters as we did before the movie began. There’s an entire subplot involving Ghost that ties interestingly to the MCU’s and Hank’s past but even that feels largely contrived for the sake of propelling the narrative and providing viewers with the now mandatory twist that we’ve come to expect in Marvel movies. Looking back at the marketing though, it’s once again interesting to see how the trailers didn’t really spoil anything despite giving away a chunk of the film’s climactic set pieces. Definitely one of the things Marvel are doing right.
Ant-Man and the Wasp hinges on generous dozes of humor and comedy sprayed in abundance throughout the movie. While some of the jokes do land, others quite don’t. I particularly enjoyed the bits with Luis, Dave and Kurt entrapped with the truth serum or a video call exchange between Scott Lang and his daughter Cassie in the middle of a dangerous situation or even Lang’s shrinking shenanigans when Hope accompanies him to his daughter’s school. However a lot of the gags feel forced or even outdated, whether its for instance Lang’s reaction to his small desk or Pym’s reaction to what Lang did with his suit which even seems kinda out of character.
Unlike the first Ant-Man, this time its Evangeline Lily who carries the movie squarely on her shoulders and she doesn’t disappoint. While the treatment of the Wasp is nowhere as layered or complex as we were promised it would be, it’s still a fine and confident portrayal by all accounts. Lily embraces the badassery of Hope Van Dyne and enjoys a healthy dynamic with her father after their strained relationship in the first one. Hank, for his part, does little of substance in this movie save for more of the character’s strained past relationships and egoistic attitude comic to the forefront, which Michael Douglas does well to bring out. Paul Rudd is commendable and looks youthful and exuberant as always, coming across as an affable hero with less moral complications compared to his debut MCU outing. He also co-wrote the movie along with five other writers which probably explains the hodgepodge nature of the movie’s plot. The last time I recall that many hands involved in a Marvel movie at least was Thor: The Dark World and we all know it didn’t fare well.
As is customary with MCU titles by now, most of the supporting cast get their bits and moments to shine and they do their level best to stay relevant in the proceedings. The trio of Michael Pena as Luis, Tip Harris as Dave and David Dastmalchian as Kurt barely register an impact, except for maybe Luis who teases an exciting superhero transformation by requesting a suit (unfortunately it doesn’t go anywhere and is just a gag for now). Michelle Pfeiffer plays Janet Van Dyne with great warmth although it’s strange how she doesn’t exhibit any signs of having spent three decades within the quantum realm; that can either be attributed to the writers or to Pfeiffer’s performance. The filmmakers also successfully employ the now staple digital de-aging through a flashback sequence showing a young Douglas and Pfeiffer on their first mission; those seem to be getting better with each movie. Lawrence Fishburne plays a commendable and restrained Bill Foster and so does Hanna John-Kamen depict the volatile Ghost. These are the only two characters who go through some sort of moral dilemma in the movie and show a level of moral ambiguity absent in the rest of the cast.
In summation, Ant-Man and the Wasp lacks the personality, charm and wit that made the original movie an endearing hit and yet brings enough to the table to qualify as a decent sequel outing in its own right. Director Peyton Reed tries his best to make the movie his own and infuse it with new comic and story elements but one can’t shake off the feeling that he comes out short on multiple fronts. In fact, it makes you wonder just exactly how much of Edgar Wright’s DNA was present in the original Ant-Man and it appears as though it was quite a lot. Still, this is a recommended watch for those looking to escape the dreadful nature and serious ramifications of a certain Mad Titan’s actions and is a welcome if not up to the mark change of pace from the usual New York saving antics. This one’s not about saving the world, it’s about saving the woman.
And an advisory word. Stay back for both post-credits scenes as they tie-in nicely into what is to come.
Overall Score: 6.5 out of 10.0