In 2015 Ant-Man became a surprise hit for Marvel Studios. The film grossed over 500 million dollars worldwide, turned Paul Rudd into an action star and Ant-Man became a popular superhero. No one predicted that Ant-Man was going to be successful at all, not to mention as successful as it was. However, Marvel and director Peyton Reed were able to overcome a director change and a fair amount of skepticism to make a good film. They were able to do that by scaling the film back, telling a self-contained story and making the film different from any other Marvel film. That formula worked so well the first time, it only makes since to use it on the sequel, especially with such high stakes.
Peyton Reed returned to direct Ant-Man and the Wasp, which is Marvel’s 20th film and the first film to follow after Avenger’s: Infinity War. The end of Infinity War brought about rampant speculation and intrigue. It’s an unenviable position to have to follow that because there is an expectation that those events will be addressed (regardless if that is fair or not). Reed and the team of writers (Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer and Gariel Ferrari) handled the tough position they were in by doing exactly what made the first film successful. Ant-Man and the Wasp is a scaled back, self-contained film with its own distinct style and that is exactly what this movie needed to be.
We have become accustomed to huge superhero movies where our heroes aren’t just saving the city or a love interest, but they are saving the world. A lot of times this feels like the right scale, if you have super powers you should be doing more than taking cats out of trees, but with the amount of superhero movies that come out this also grows tiring. This is especially true in a post Infinity War landscape. The stakes and scale don’t get any higher than they did, and we still haven’t gotten a resolution to that. That is the brilliance in the script for Ant-Man and the Wasp. This is an incredibly small story that only takes place in one city (not counting the Quantum Realm of course). Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) believes that his wife, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) is still alive in the Quantum Realm and that he and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) can bring her back. Add in a couple of subplots (Scott dealing with the fallout of him helping Captain America and Ava trying to extract quantum energy out of Janet to save her own life) and you have the complete story.
This is the perfect way to make this film because as soon as you know the plot and that it’s not tied to anything else in the universe; you can breath a sigh of relief. You can relax and have fun with this movie because the story is so self-contained. To further its brilliance, during this film you even forget about the events of Infinity War and you are only concerned about this story. The story itself, beyond its scale, is a solid piece of writing and is very well rendered by Reed. The stakes are quickly established and I found myself invested in the story very early on. Rescuing a loved one is an easy connection point for any viewer and that is incredibly important here. The tie in to the events of Ant-Man are also very clever because it establishes rules and helps all of this make sense. There is a lot of science talk in this film and anchors like that one are important for all of this making sense.
Even though his name is first billed, Ant-Man isn’t really the star of this film, the Wasp is. We are introduced to this very early on when Scott (Paul Rudd) is brought into the final stages of an operation. Pyme and Hope have already built what they need to get Janet back and formulated a plan before Scott is brought in. He is really only there because of a quantum connection with Janet. We quickly see what the Wasp can do when a deal goes sour. Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) has the final piece that Hope needs when he discovers who she really is and that the FBI is looking for her. From here we get our first (of many) incredible action sequences. The quickness in which the Wasp can change sizes and use that during a fight is incredible. It was beautifully choreographed and shot, which made for a great time as well a great scene to establish the Wasp. As the movie carries along, Hope/Wasp is the driving force for everything that is being done, both emotionally and physically. This is a place where Peyton Reed improved upon the first film. Evangeline Lilly was horribly underutilized in the first film and her character was far more qualified to be in the suit, so it was great to see her not only have more to do in this film but really be the driving force of the whole film.
Along with giving Evangeline Lilly more to do, there were some great new characters introduced this time around. Michelle Pfeiffer as Janet Van Dyne is great casting and even though she wasn’t around for very long, she was a strong presence. Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Bill Foster and Randall Park as Jimmy Woo were other great additions, but my personal favorite was Hannah John-Kamen as Ava. This character functions as an antagonist throughout most of the film but in a much more intriguing way than usual. There was depth to her character and a real motivation that wound up being more sympathetic than villainous. Hannah John-Kamen gave a good performance and really kicked ass in the action sequences. This was a good character addition that helped to make the film better and that could have benefited from even more screen time.
The reason why Ava didn’t get more time to breathe is because there was another antagonist introduced in this film, the aforementioned Sonny Burch (Goggins). This character makes no sense at all to me and provided the only low points of the film. Ava may not have been a full on villain, like Sonny Burch is, but she could have functioned as one in this film and it would have been better for it. The Burch character is the exact opposite of the Ava character in every way. Burch is underdeveloped, uninteresting and lacks any clear or reasonable motivation. He simply exists either to continue the Marvel problem of poor villains or to be someone everyone in the audience can simply hate. Fortunately, this one bad character does not hurt the film as a whole because everything else is done so well.
Ant-Man and the Wasp has a lot of great aspects to it. The action sequences and special effects are incredible throughout this movie. Reed doubled down on the fun of playing with the sizes of characters and objects by giving us a lot more of it. It was all logical evolutions on the technology which made it all the better. Hank Pyme and Hope having cars that change in size and a lab that goes from a full scale building to luggage makes perfect sense since they are on the run. It also makes for a lot of fun with the reveals of these abilities and a car chase sequence unlike anything I’ve ever seen. This film is also incredibly funny. It functions more as a comedy than anything else and it really worked. The supporting cast played into this so well, as they did in the first film. The team of Luis (Michael Pena), Dave (T.I.) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian) steal the show again this time around with their humor and timing. They had the humor highlights of the film especially the bit with the truth serum. Their humor kept things light and fun, that paired with the action sequences and Paul Rudd makes for one of the most fun times you’ll have at the movie theater. Ant-Man was unlike any marvel movie at the time and felt like a breath of fresh air. Ant-Man and the Wasp manages to be both of those things and an even better film than the first.
4 out of 5 stars
Director: Peyton Reed Writers: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, T.I., Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne & Michael Douglas Release Date: July 6th Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 2 hours and 2 minutes Image Credit: Marvel