A film review by Craig J. Koban July 29, 2018


2018, PG-13, 118 mins.


Paul Rudd as Scott Lang / Ant-Man  /  Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne / The Wasp  /  Hannah John-Kamen as Ghost  /  Michael Douglas as Dr. Hank Pym  /  Michael Peña as Luis  /  Walton Goggins as Sonny Burch  /  Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Bill Foster / Goliath  /  Bobby Cannavale as Paxton  /  Judy Greer as Maggie Lang  /  Randall Park as Jimmy Woo  /  T.I. as Dave  /  David Dastmalchian as Kurt  /  Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet van Dyne

Directed by Peyton Reed  /  Written by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari, and Paul Rudd


Considering the galactic solemnity and unfathomably dire stakes at the climax of the very recently released AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, one could easily argue that a return to the frivolous merriment of the ANT-MAN films would feel like relative comfort food right about now.  

One of the singular pleasures for me from 2015's ANT-MAN was the offbeat and atypical casting of Paul Rudd as the titular insect-sized hero, not to mention the manner with which that film created a worthy and epically scaled installment in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe that still managed to somehow feel uniquely fresh and invigorating as a standalone effort apart from it.  Marrying elements of a heist thriller with a super hero action comedy, ANT-MAN was an invitingly wacky departure for the MCU and was, for my money, one of its most inviting entries. 

Having said that, though, the very specifically titled ANT-MAN AND THE WASP has decidedly large creative shoes to fill coming off of the nightmarish cliffhanger climax of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, leaving it somewhat in the unenviable position of leading the charge as the twentieth MCU feature.  In many ways, ANT-MAN AND THE WASP maintains its prequel's bubbly energy, finely tuned performances, and sense of visual effects playfulness, but its self aware comedic detachment and overall lightness of tone sort of makes the stakes here feel all the more perfunctory and (pardon the pun) small when compared to the massive super hero extravaganza that preceded it.  That's not to say that ANT-MAN AND THE WASP isn't giddily enjoyable and entertaining in modest dosages, but it nevertheless doesn't truly raise the bar very high as far as comic book inspired sequels go.  It comfortably maintains status quo formulas that were established in the last film, but coming on the heels of not only AVENGERS, but also the genre busting BLACK PANTHER (also from this year), ANT-MAN AND THE WASP doesn't innovatively bring much to the table. 



To be fair, this sequel does not take place directly after the events of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, but rather just before it and after the events of the first ANT-MAN and CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.  It opens with Scott Lang (the everlastingly likeable Paul Rudd) under house arrest for his participation in assisting Steve Rogers, now considered a war criminal by his own country.  He seems to be taking his confinement in stride and is in the home stretch of finishing it off, but severe repetitive boredom is starting to settle in.  Things change when he has a strange vision, during which time he appears to be interacting with the long lost elder Wasp, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has been long since trapped in the quantum realm for years (don't even begin to ask me to explain the garbley gook scientific nonsense that is the quantum realm, because these films don't do a very good job of explaining it either).   

Anyhoo', Scott decides to act upon his odd dreams and seeks out his former mentor, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) for guidance, which proves difficult seeing as (a) he can't leave his own home and (b) both Hank and Hope are mightily sore that Scott used the Ant-Man tech to help Captain America without consulting them and asking for their assistance.  Hope engineers a rather ingenious jailbreak of Scott to ensure that no one will be none the wiser that he has left his house, after which time she brings him to Hank's secret laboratory to assist them with building a machine that will help them all return to the quantum realm and hopefully be able to find Janet.  All of their efforts are thwarted by a black market dealer (Walton Goggins) and a mysterious young woman known as Ghost (Hannah John Kamen), who has a nifty ability to phase through matter, but requires - yup! - quantum realm energy to survive.  Assisting her is an old colleague from Hank's past (Lawrence Fishburne), who may or may not be on the side of the law. 

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP gets by - especially during sections of the film when screenplay inadequacies betray it (more on that in a bit) - on the effortless and unforced chemistry and charm displayed by the successful trio of Rudd, Lilly, and Douglas, especially the former two, who in tandem make for a rather dynamic and successful super hero duo.  Rudd, as always, can play loveable morons in over his head better than any actor in Hollywood, and once again his portrayal of Scott reinforces his sometimes hapless shortcomings, but well meaning attitude to do the right thing...even though he frequently bumbles at his attempts to do so.  Lilly's presence in the mostly sausage fest that is the larger MCU is also most welcoming, and she commands the role with a straight laced sincerity and kick ass sex appeal that helps cement her as a most worthy addiction to this cinematic world.  The interplay and banter between Hope and Scott are some of the film's low key highlights, and they help build upon the sense of overall looseness of approach of the first ANT-MAN.   

The supporting cast is also well assembled once again, in particular Michael Pena's motor mouthed and perpetually hyperactive Luis, who returns as Scott's friend and business partner, and seeing Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer share screen time together (albeit a frustratingly limited amount) is a real nostalgic treat, seeing as both were two of the most prominent performers of the 1980s.  Randal Park's infectiously clueless FBI agent tasked to watch over Scott and ensure that he doesn't break house arrest scores some of the film's best laughs, which are tied to wonderful sequences showcasing Scott trying to maintain his secluded and incarcerated sanity by building indoor forts out of cardboard boxes with his visiting daughter Cassidy or karaoke-ing to The Partridge Family.  It's an interesting and amusing dynamic to see a super hero forced against his will to not be a super hero...because he's essentially and legally stuck at home and can't leave.   

Select action and visual effects scenes here are also reliably stellar and sometimes awe-inspiring.  One thing that films have failed to do over the history of the medium is create moments when normal sized human beings are shrunk down to the size of a dime and credibly interact with other normal sized people and items, but the two ANT-MAN films seems to have perfected it.  Returning director Peyton Reed has a field day drumming up fight and chase sequences of dazzling inventiveness that taps into all of the limitless possibilities of having Scott be either incredibly small or, in some case, the size of a building.  One kink in Scott's arsenal is a malfunctioning suit this go around, which without warning - and to humorous effect - shrinks and expands him, putting him in harm's way.  I liked how Hank, for example, shrinks his headquarters down to the size of a carry on piece of luggage that he can pull behind him with a makeshift handle, or another spectacular moment involving a wild chase through San Francisco's Fisherman's Warf that demonstrates that no expense was spared to make ANT-MAN AND THE WASP as visually bold and appealing as any MCU entry that's come before. 

Unfortunately, all of the aesthetic innovation, tonal cheerfulness, and well oiled performances can't save this sequel from the weight of an overstuffed script (the product of nearly more writers than I have fingers) that's riddled with too many characters, too many distracting subplots, and a lot of expositional heavy lifting in the early stages, which leaves the film feeling like it's staggering out of the gate without a unified game plan.  There are instances when the overall aimlessness of the narrative takes center stage, much to its detriment, not to mention that we once again are given another example here of the MCU's continued villain problem with many of their standalone films.  The underlining story thread of Ghost is tragic and could have been mined for some compelling layers (the notion of a woman cursed with space-phasing abilities that affects every aspect of her life is intriguing).  Regrettably, there are no real layers to her character, nor is she afforded much depth as a villain.  Then there's the murky and vague romantic arc between Hope and Scott, which, I think, is established here as former lovers.  Yet, ANT-MAN AND THE WASP - despite the mileage it gets out of the terrific pairing of Lily and Rudd - never embellishes or furthers their relationship to satisfying effect.   

And, yes, the seismic dramatic heaviness of the last MCU effort seems to have been all but scrubbed away here, to both understandable and off-putting effect.  No one entering an ANT-MAN film wants it to be ostensibly dark and moody (yuck), but Marvel has unluckily set up a situation where the bright pluckiness of these films comes right after AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, which seems like a miscalculation (like all MCU films, ANT-MAN AND THE WASP has a mid-end credits sequence that goes out of its way to tie itself to INFINITY WAR, but the results seem forced and falsely manipulative).  This sequel is hard to qualify for me: I enjoyed its far out trippiness with its zippy action scenes and loved its game cast that relish in the improvisational gusto of the whole enterprise.  ANT-MAN AND THE WASP is a hard film to hate, but it's undeniably messy and seems largely disposable.  There's an emphasis on making the film bigger it terms of both visual delights and storytelling, but mournfully it's a sequel of tiny returns. 

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