Back in 2015, Ant-Man was a small hero, with little expectation on his shoulders. A harder sell, and one of the sillier-sounding characters from the comics (“I thought they had run out of characters and now they were making them up,” said Evangeline Lilly when she was first offered the script), it also suffered production problems as original director Edgar Wright departed, to be replaced at the 11th hour by Peyton Reed. You’d have been forgiven for going in with microscopic hopes, but it turned out to be one of Marvel’s most fun standalones, with a perfect hangdog (anty)hero in Paul Rudd’s criminal turned, well, criminal (but with cool tech and a righteous mission), Scott Lang.
The scaled-down action brought a new flavour to screen superpowers, and Ant-Man has since been seen in Civil War, where he made a BIG impact on the side of his idol Captain America, but he was nowhere to be seen in this year’s apocalyptic epic, Avengers: Infinity War, said to be on house arrest for involvement in the Sokovia Accords-contravening dust-up in Germany. And now, Ant-Man and the Wasp is here to show what Scott was up to during that time, and to also offer something of a respite after the heaviosity of the game-changingly ambitious Infinity War, acting as a reminder of just how fun a light, lean standalone MCU movie can be.
It represents more of an entertaining detour than a leap forward for the universe. A brief prologue recaps that original Wasp, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) is lost in the quantum realm, and now her husband and original Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) thinks he might have way to fish her out of there. After that, we’re back in ‘Present Day’ (but clearly before Thanos has done his business) with ankle-tagged Lang, who’s serving out the final days of his two years of house arrest. His involvement in the Cap vs Iron Man ruckus means he’s banned from contacting Hank or his daughter Hope (Lilly), who are on the run for their loose connection (they designed the tech Scott was using, after all). A freaky dream featuring Janet sets the plot in motion, which finds Hank and Hope, the FBI, a shady collective of black-market weapons dealers (led by Walton Goggins’ enjoyable oily Sonny Merch) and the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) crossing paths on the hunt for various McGuffins.
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For all the high-tech (and mostly nonsensical) science on show, this is a streamlined plot as far as superhero movies go, and all the better to let the comedy come naturally to the fore. This time directing from the get-go, Peyton Reed once again demonstrates as confident a hand on the action as on the considerable comedy. Rudd’s comic chops and innate likeability are weaponised throughout – when he’s on screen, a charming quip is never far away, as much fun out of the suit as he is in it. He’s not the only one bringing the funny though. Michael Peña’s Luis returns to steal every scene he’s in, reprising one his best moments from the first film in AMATW’s standout gutbuster. Randall Park is also hilarious as the FBI suit on Scott’s case.
With Rudd on the comedy, Lilly gets a chance to shine as the sharp, resourceful half of the duo as Wasp MKII. Gifted a supersuit with wings and blasters, she capably handles the film’s more serious action, and makes a smart and resourceful foil to Scott’s laidback everyman brand of heroism.
As far as Marvel villains go, Ghost ranks somewhere in the middle. Her ‘phasing’ power looks cool but is ill-defined, and John-Kamen manages to invest her with some pathos, despite a slightly overcomplicated backstory that feels like it could’ve been streamlined more elegantly for a bigger impact. It’s a plot thread that feels wooly where the rest of the film has so much zip. To say too much about Pfeiffer’s involvement would veer into spoiler territory, but needless to say she invests her minimal screentime with the weight you’d expect from a presence of her calibre.
There’s still a lot of fun to be had with the scale-shifting set-pieces. Buildings and cars are miniaturised for some great sight gags, and there’s plenty of mileage to be had from a problem Scott has with a malfunctioning suit. The standout set-piece comes in a car chase through San Francisco’s sloping streets that’s thrilling and funny in equal measure.
Consistently entertaining, AMATW is a blast of pure popcorn fun, and something of a palate cleanser after the weightier likes of Black Panther and Infinity War. As ever stick around for the two end-credit stings: one’s a throwaway gag, but the other is absolutely crucial…
- Release date: July 6, 2018 (US)/August 3, 2018 (UK)
- Certificate: PG-13 (US)/12A (UK)
- Running time: 118 mins