After Avengers: Infinity War left the Marvel universe on an incredibly bleak note, the timing couldn’t be better for Paul Rudd’s miniature-sized hero to sneak back in and rescue the mood. Ant-Man and the Wasp may not offer fans many clues following April’s brutal cliffhanger, but what the sequel does deliver on is lighthearted comic relief, zippy special effects, and further creative utilization of the superhero’s unique powers. Ant-Man still rests below most of Marvel’s competition in terms of merit, but this sequel features a perceptible uptick in quality over its predecessor.
Sitting at 82% on Rotten Tomatoes, the original Ant-Man is far and above the most overrated Marvel film among the critics. After more than a decade of campaigning for the hero’s cinematic origins story, Edgar Wright finally achieved his dream of landing a director’s role on the big screen-treatment for one of his favorite childhood properties. Unfortunately, the visionary behind such works as Shaun of the Dead and last year’s Baby Driver proved too aggressive at imprinting his personal brand to fit the Marvel framework, and was ousted from the project.
The loss of Wright, and his replacement with comedy director Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Yes Man) was a pitiful shame, as was the retooling of his script with Joe Cornish by Adam McKay and Paul Rudd to better fit Reed’s style and Marvel’s objectives. The finished product still capably demonstrated to doubters how a movie about a smaller-sized superhero could effectively work, but the conflict behind the scenes was still palpable, and the revised screenplay was painfully unconvincing as it strained to explain the workings behind Hank Pym’s shrinking technology.
Ant-Man and the Wasp still relies on Reed as director, and though much of the basic premise is still difficult to buy, the sequel arrives at a time when Marvel is exhibiting an assured oversight over their entire output, and the result weighs in as a slightly smoother viewing experience than the 2015 original. With a decreased stress on desperate attempts to explain the impossible science, And-Man and the Wasp focuses more on the thrills provided by the shrinking technology’s effects, allowing the viewer to more easily suspend his/her disbelief, and to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang got left out of Infinity War, but he definitely got a chance to shine back in Captain America: Civil War, growing to gargantuan size for the first time while teaming up with Steve Rogers to battle team Iron Man. Because he didn’t consult with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to borrow the suit, the scientist, as well as his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), cut ties with Scott. Since Lang previously managed to shrink down far enough to enter the Quantum Realm and return safely, Pym begins experiments to rescue his wife, whom he lost there.
After constructing a tunnel that reaches into the Quantum Realm, Hank and Hope become aware that Scott is experiencing visions of the lost Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). Hank theorizes their consciousnesses have become entangled, and finds reason to work with Scott once again. They soon realize they have a finite window to rescue Janet (convoluted writing, anyone?), but two unique enemies are after Pym’s tech: Ava Starr (Hannah John-Kamen), a mercenary who was altered by Pym’s tech as a child, and Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), a black market crime boss.
A practical move of Ant-Man and the Wasp is that of not featuring a central villain, but rather obstacles to the protagonists’ goals. A recurring problem of comic films is a difficulty in offering truly menacing villains, and though the writing is ducking out of a challenge, it’s a refreshing change of pace for the film not to be left open to what is almost destined to be a weak spot open to criticism. In its stead, we have a tortured victim of experimentation from the suitably shifty Hannah John-Kamen, and an amusing-as-always Walton Goggins as yet another slimy ruffian.
Unfortunately, with a script from a lengthy list of writers including Paul Rudd as well as Chris McKenna, who contributed to Spider-Man: Homecoming, among others, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a hectic jumble of plot threads and characters that doesn’t fit together as seamlessly as it could with a more streamlined group of contributors. In addition, Peyton Reed, who only had experience working in comedy before the first Ant-Man, struggles immensely here at juggling the larger scale of an inflated action sequel, and the film is a clunky ride from start to finish.
But while the presentation is bumpy, Ant-Man and the Wasp is still a profound pleasure as Marvel explores new and more creative applications of the shrinking concept. With Evangeline Lilly’s Hope donning the suit for the first time as The Wasp, the benefit of partners leads to boundless advantages, and where in the original Scott could only be tiny, here he makes full use of shifting to a variety of sizes, giant or small. A scene with a pint-sized Lang in a grade school is hilarious, and a CGI-sequence featuring towering microscopic creatures is simply breathtaking.
But as I mentioned before, the fundamental absence of logic hasn’t changed, and it is a persistent hamper on the mischief (e.g., if a car shrinks, it should be common sense that the driving time should be exponentially longer). Thankfully, the DNA of Ant-Man is built more around play rather than the laws of physics, and there is still plenty of fun to be had if you don’t analyze things too closely. Paul Rudd’s lovable screen presence hasn’t changed, and his effective pairing with Evangeline Lilly renders Ant-Man and the Wasp a terrific duo to contend with.