2018 has already had two of Marvel’s biggest films — both financially and culturally — and now comes a sequel starring everyone’s favorite hero: Ant- Man. That this movie exists, and is a sequel to a movie about Paul Rudd as a shrinking man, is low-key the best example of what Marvel has accomplished. There’s much to criticize in Marvel’s filmmaking (or lack thereof), but their narrative railroading is a great feat at this point, and they’ve been driving so fast for a decade now that they can make movies about Ant-Man and they’ll be successful. In the grand scheme of Marvel’s superhero highway this isn’t an exit you need to take, but it’s this outlier status that has made Ant-Man one of Marvel’s better set of films.
Peyton Reed’s sequel lacks the spectacle and event-feel of Avengers: Infinity War, and doesn’t have Black Panther‘s socio-political interests, but Ant-Man and the Wasp’s unimportance and nonchalant feel makes it a more breezily entertaining film. Paul Rudd’s boyish Peter Pan charms anchor this story of everyman Scott Lang, who’s still under house arrest from the events of Civil War. He spends his weekends with his daughter building forts and going on make-believe adventures. It’s not long until Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter, Hope aka the Wasp (Evangeline Lily), steal Scott from his life of isolated domesticity.
Their adventure sees them trying to save Hope’s mother, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), from the quantum realm where she’s been stuck for decades. It’s this desire to return to a domestic family that binds together the characters of the film. Even the villain, Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a young woman who can move through objects, is haunted by her father and mother’s death and now floats aimlessly in pain. But this is a film, for better and worse, that half-asses plot and character arcs. Hank Pym rattles off scientific mumbo jumbo about his machine that will allow them to travel to the quantum realm, but it doesn’t really matter; you’re probably just staring at the giant ants he has in his laboratory. This is a film about gags and goofy special effects.The fight sequences make for some decent action that doubles as physical comedy. In a kitchen fight scene, Wasp comically runs on utensils, and avoids being chopped up like a vegetable. It’s kinda fun when Lang grows to the size of Godzilla, but a genuinely good bit is when his suit malfunctions and he’s stuck the size of a 5th grader for an entire scene. These overtly comedic connections mixed with action remind one of Deadpool, but where those films are snarky, this is endearing.
Since the first Avengers there’s been a weight tied down to Marvel films that makes each entry feel like a TV episode (their often bland aesthetic doesn’t help) and that the NEXT one will be the most important (Guardians, Ant-Man and Ragnarok being the exceptions). Films like Infinity War and Black Panther are better and more meaningful in the grand scheme of Marvel’s narrative, but both are too tied down to balancing characters and plot to ever feel alive, and they attempt a level of seriousness that doesn’t entirely stick (Infinity’s War‘s surprising, but faux ending).
Ant-Man and the Wasp is a significantly weaker film — and highly forgettable — but it interestingly avoids those problems with a light Saturday morning cartoon vibe mixed with a dash of drive-in monster movie charm — though I wish they fully leaned into the B-movie roots with full on process shots and miniatures. There’s no attempt at creating an aesthetic differing from Marvel’s other heroes, and this is a franchise that could and should get away with being weird. It’s this sort of autopilot filmmaking that holds these films back from being memorable. Remember how distinguished Raimi’s Spider-Man was?
Marvel’s villain problem (they’ve got 3 good ones by my count) continues here with Ghost, whose motivation is as thin as her superpower. It’s indicative of lazy storytelling but it’s also a film that’s not trying to be any more than what it is. And what it is is just trying to get a laugh and make you smile, and it almost solely relies on its actors to do so. Weeks from viewing you’ll forget what it’s about, or the character’s names, but you’ll likely remember a few jokes and performances.
The supporting cast, from Walton Goggins’ generically southern accented baddie to Randall Park’s S.H.I.E.L.D agent who is always a step behind Lang, go beyond what you’d expect for such thin characters. A recurring bit about the Baba-Yaga from David Dastmalchian had me in stitches. I also can’t recall an actor nailing every single joke they have like Michael Peña does in this film. Peyton Reed’s comedic chops lend Ant-Man and the Wasp a kind of laid-back attitude. This would be a solid movie to catch on TV on a Saturday night. It’s a film aware of its silliness, and uses it for comedic and special effect. Ant-Man and the Wasp is not an essential comic book issue in Marvel’s grand story; it doesn’t want to be! That’s almost refreshing for these films.