Review: Marvel's 'Ant-Man and the Wasp' is Big Fun in a Small Package
by Adam Frazier
July 5, 2018
Marvel Comics first introduced the character of Ant-Man in 1962 with the publication of Tales to Astonish #27. The insect-controlling, half-inch hero later appeared in Avengers #1 alongside his partner-in-crime, the Wasp, as founding members of the team. It wasn't until 2015, however, that the iconic duo made their big screen debut in director Peyton Reed's heist comedy, Ant-Man. Well, sort of. In the movie, the original Ant-Man, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), resurrects the hero and handpicks good-natured thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to don the suit. Pym's daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) is set to become the Wasp by the movie's end, but we never actually see her in action. Enter Ant-Man and the Wasp, the twentieth installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), once again directed by Peyton Reed.
After his exploits with the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War, ex-con Scott Lang finds himself under house arrest — for two years. When faced with the decision to become Ant-Man again, Scott is conflicted, as he is struggling to get his home-life back on track and be the best possible father to Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) that he can be. As for Hank and Hope, the father-daughter team are fugitives on the run. Hope has used her time in hiding to master her new role as the Wasp, utilizing a shrink-suit with insectoid wings and wrist gauntlets that fire bio-electric energy blasts. Hank Pym, meanwhile, is busy in his state-of-the-art mobile lab, creating technology that will allow him to search for his long-lost wife, the original Wasp Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), in the Quantum Realm — a subatomic world beyond our own.
Standing in the way of Hank's on-going mission is Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), a genteel but menacing gangster who dabbles in black-market tech with his sights on acquiring Hank's latest invention. Throwing an additional wrench into the works is the appearance of Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen of Ready Player One), an elusive foe whose molecular makeup is forever altered after she is exposed to the subatomic physics of the Quantum Realm. As a result, Ghost can phase through matter, making her an unstable and intangible threat. Desperate to gain control over her abilities, Ghost is in search of a device that can stabilize her physical form and take away her pain, which puts her in direct conflict with the Ant-Man and the Wasp.
With the first Ant-Man movie, there was a lot that had to be set up for audiences to invest in the story, like the mythology of the original Ant-Man and Wasp, and how their suits work via "Pym Particles" — subatomic particles that can radically shrink or enlarge objects. It also had to set up Scott Lang as a lovable ex-con and introduce Hope Van Dyne as the new Wasp. The movie had to establish even more out-there concepts like Ant-Man's command over ants and the surreal, subatomic Quantum Realm. The film also had to connect directly to the MCU, with cameos by S.H.I.E.L.D., Avengers Headquarters, and Anthony Mackie's Falcon. It's a lot to ask of an audience, even one as committed as Marvel's.
Still, despite switching out creative teams early in production — director Edgar Wright and co-writer Joe Cornish originally left the project in 2014 citing creative differences — the movie works surprisingly well, carried by a charming performance from Rudd and some inventive action set pieces that take full advantage of the hero's unique skill set. With Ant-Man and the Wasp, however, Reed and his gaggle of screenwriters, comprised of Paul Rudd and two different writing teams — Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers of Spider-Man: Homecoming and Andrew Barrer & Gabriel Ferrari of Haunt — don't have to spend valuable story time on establishing the world. They're able to hit the ground running and focus on developing the characters, building on the prevailing theme of family that was so integral to the first film's success.
The film's title is more than appropriate as this isn't a solo effort but a two-hander between Hope and Scott. In the first film, it was clear that Hope was more capable than Scott was at being a superhero, but her father, because of the loss of her mother, didn’t want her to take the risk. Now we get to see Hope embrace her inner badass as the Wasp, which changes the team dynamic completely. Evangeline Lilly is just fantastic in this role, effortlessly delivering on both sides of the action-comedy formula. She's able to exude charm, confidence, vulnerability, and emotion, making for an incredibly well-rounded and likable character that I cannot wait to see more of in 2019's Avengers: Infinity War follow-up. Likewise, Rudd makes an excellent Ant-Man, playing Scott as someone you care about; someone that when he messes up or does the wrong thing, you empathize with him, but you also can’t help but want to see him pulled back into the role of the hero. There's real chemistry between the two that makes seeing them act as a unified team all the more satisfying.
The supporting cast is equally impressive. Scenes with Douglas and Pfeiffer are laced with affection and warmth, while the welcome return of the X-Con Security crew — Luis (Michael Peña), Dave (Tip "T.I." Harris), Kurt (David Dastmalchian) — provide some of the movie's biggest laughs. I also quite enjoyed Goggins' southern gentlemen gangster and John-Kamen's volatile assassin. It's refreshing to take a step back from the massive scope of something like Infinity War and experience a superhero story with smaller, more intimate stakes, and I like that the villains in this story are just as unconventional as the heroes. Other additions to the ensemble include Laurence Fishburne as Bill Foster, a former colleague of Hank and Janet's who becomes part of Hank's plan to reunite his family, and Randal Park as Jimmy Woo, the FBI agent charged with monitoring Scott to make sure he stays under house arrest. The interplay between Park and Rudd is so much fun, and I really hope this character continues to pop up in subsequent MCU outings.
This movie also has some of my favorite action set pieces in all the MCU. Stunt coordinator George Cottle (Inception, Spider-Man: Homecoming) knows how to choreograph a myriad of complex, size-shifting fight scenes, including a kick-ass sequence reminiscent of the epic kitchen fight in The Raid 2, in which Wasp singlehandedly takes out dozens of Burch's thugs without breaking a sweat. Lilly brings a lot of physicality to the role, it's clear she's fully committed to the cause. There's also a crazy car chase through the winding streets of San Francisco, where Luis is in a Hot Wheels-sized Hyundai Veloster being chased and shot at by an SUV filled with bad guys. All the action scenes are exciting because they're so unique – you won't see these kinds of set pieces in other movies because they're so specific to these characters and their powers.
After Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War earlier this year, Ant-Man and the Wasp completes Marvel Studios' hat-trick for 2018. The stakes may be shrunk down, but the entertainment value is huge. After the devastating events of Infinity War, Reed's action-comedy works as a much-needed palate cleanser for the MCU, delivering fast-paced action and family-friendly fun, with charming performances and spectacular special effects. And that mid-credits scene? It's one of the absolute best. The movies of 2019 and the slate of Marvel Studios offerings can't come soon enough.
Adam's Rating: 4 out of 5
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