After the universe-shattering events of Avengers: Infinity War, it’s almost a little jarring to come down to something as lightweight and insubstantial as Ant-Man and the Wasp. And yet one of the benefits of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that the films are both consistent and yet diverse. You want a cosmic romp? Check out Guardians of the Galaxy. You want palace intrigue? Thor and Black Panther have you covered. And if you want something that can harmlessly play in the background, then that’s where the Ant-Man movies come in. The new installment doubles down on the inoffensiveness of the first film, and functions as a suitable palette cleanser after Infinity War. The movie takes nothing, including itself, seriously, and just runs on as a nice caper with relatively low stakes and goofball humor. Ant-Man and the Wasp realizes there’s nothing wrong with just being fun.
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has been on house arrest for two years following the events of Captain America: Civil War, and has been cut out of the lives of Hope Van Dyne (Evangline Lilly) and her father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who have busied themselves trying to rescue Hope’s mother, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), from the Quantum Realm where she disappeared thirty years ago. When Scott, two days away from being released from house arrest, gets a vision of Janet and calls Hank about it, Scott gets kidnapped for his trouble by Hope and Hank as they believe he’s the final piece of the puzzle in rescuing Janet. But the rescue operation gets complicated when a key component is stolen by the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) combined with the scheming of the greedy Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), who wants to profit off Pym’s technology. Scott, Hope, and Hank must fend off these threats as they try to complete their mission to rescue Janet and also get Scott home in time to be released from house arrest.
The script is kind of a mess, but it holds together just enough by being a solid caper movie. The characters are constantly chasing after one thing or another, and then the script throws obstacles to them getting that thing. It gets a little exhausting after the first hour or so as the movie never wants to drill down to a deep investment in anything in particular. The lightweight tone makes Ant-Man and the Wasp a film that’s always in danger of floating away, but it holds you just enough with its goofy charm and inoffensive tone. It’s a movie that just wants to make you smile and give you a sensible chuckle, and you could do far worse when it comes to the goals of a blockbuster picture.
Although the movie can be very silly, we’re always invested thanks to the charm of the characters. Edgar Wright really got away with something when he cast Paul Rudd as a superhero, who brings a unique attitude to these movies. He’s got an everyman way about him that lets him poke fun at the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a way that lets him almost be an audience surrogate. We’re always on the same page as Scott, and it’s fitting that he plays a character who can grow to larger than life when he’s also in larger than life circumstances. The movie also gets a lot more out of Lilly this time around as she has to be the harder edge to Scott’s silly performance, but you can feel that in a more focused film, there would be a great screwball comedy centered on just these two characters. As it stands, she’s in a bit of a juggling act between Scott and trying to save her mom as well as the other craziness, but Lilly tackles it with cool charm and bravado.
And yet the scene-stealer yet again is Michael Pena as Scott’s friend Luis. He’s pretty much the same guy as he was in the first film except this time he runs a security company (cheekily called “X-Con”) instead of trying to rob people. But he adds such terrific manic energy that the entire film receives a boost whenever he’s on screen. And in a way, Luis, more than Scott and Hope, is the perfect avatar for these movies. There’s not much to him, he’s always there to make things more fun, he doesn’t take anything seriously, and you don’t really mind that he’s kind of insubstantial because he’s a joy to watch.
For some, they may want more from their Marvel movies. Thor: Ragnarok didn’t take anything too seriously either, but it has the trappings of a big space opera, wacky cosmic hijinks, and the very clear voice of director Taika Waititi coming through. By comparison, director Peyton Reed deftly manages the light comedy of Ant-Man and the Wasp and while the movie acquits itself well at playing with size comparisons, in totality, it is a small movie. At times you forget there are even villains, and you could probably do away with the antagonists entirely and throw up different obstacles in the attempt to save Janet. But the world isn’t at stake, and there’s something refreshing about that. It’s about a family trying to repair itself, and healing fractured bonds. There may not be much depth to Ant-Man and the Wasp, but it’s a nice, fun movie and in times like these, that’s oddly more than enough.