Ant-Man and the Wasp is a refreshing antidote to the dreariness of Infinity War
In the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), there's perhaps no hero that deals with lower stakes than Paul Rudd's (Clueless) Scott Lang, the ex-con and devoted father who would become the size-shifting, wisecracking superhero Ant-Man. What made the original Ant-Man so interesting was that it felt like it had a distinct personality despite its MCU trappings, blending breezy humor and wacky set pieces into a wild but oddly intimate superhero outing. Absent are the universe changing threats of most other MCU films, with director Peyton Reed (Bring It On) and his team opting instead for the sort of family-focused stories that have graced the pages of Marvel comics for decades. After the dreary noise-fest of Avengers: Infinity War, Reed shifts the MCU back to this small-scale conceit with even more satisfying results.
Set in-between Captain America: Civil War and Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp follows Lang as he is set to complete a two-year house arrest imposed upon him for his actions in Civil War. In the two years since the events of that film, Lang has mostly spent his time focusing on his daughter Cassie, not speaking to his former teammates Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, Wall Street) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly, Lost) or donning his super-powered suit since his capture. Despite his desire for a quiet end to his sentence, Lang is thrust back into his former life when Pym and Van Dyne call upon him to help them rescue the pair's wife/mother Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer, Batman Returns) from the Quantum Realm, a beyond microscopic universe beneath our own that has only Lang has been able to escape. Opposing their mission is the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen, Black Mirror), an assassin constantly stuck phasing between universes, and Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins, Justified), a black market dealer who wants to sell the team's technology to the highest bidder.
What makes Ant-Man and the Wasp feel so enjoyable is it's focus on characters, which in turn allows for a slew of fun and dynamic narrative developments that trump the messy and underdeveloped nature of the Infinity War roster. Rudd and Michael Peña (End of Watch), who plays Lang's best friend and partner Luis, again steal the show in the comedy department with an assured confidence in conveying the oddball humor that defines their characters. Luis remains the funniest character of this increasingly large franchise (sorry, Guardians) and it's a blast to see him in an expanded role here. However, the star of the show is easily Lilly, whose new status as the Wasp allows her to develop into a fully formed and frankly bad-ass superhero whose agency and ability puts her on par with the already legendary ladies of Black Panther. Lilly, who could seem a bit wooden at times in her mostly actionless role in the first film, really shines here in a much better written part which allows her to show off both her emotive and stunt talents to stunning effect. Her and Rudd are excellent foils to one another, providing some of the best chemistry yet seen between partners in the MCU and clearly having a ton of fun doing it. Also great to watch in the character department are John-Kamen and Goggins, who provide interesting characters that don't exactly fit squarely in the full-on villain boxes of other MCU antagonists, which again speaks of the strengths of the intimacy of these entries in the franchise.
The action and visual effects are also in fine form, as it's clear the success of the first film allowed Marvel Studios to give Reed a little more leeway this time around. The zany action sequences of this film burst with personality, which is something to say for the MCU as these sorts of scenes are often ironically these films' weakest parts, even in the superb Panther. Reed has a knack for allowing the camera to patiently capture the action, allowing the weird effects the Ant-Man world provides to stand out and prove once again the (literally!) smaller-scale set pieces feel more exciting than their bigger, louder counterparts.
While the film is certainly a lot more fun than Infinity War and a marked improvement over its sometimes sloppy predecessor, it still suffers from the same issues that plague much of the MCU universe. The "science" mumbo jumbo behind much of the film's mechanics will have your head spinning by the time the film is over, with the script struggling to strike a balance between presenting needed exposition and front-loading as many smart-sounding terms as possible. It's also hard to shake the feeling that all this is bit beneath the acting caliber of Douglas, Pfeiffer, and a new-to-the-series Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix). While they all have some good scenes, you can tell the pulpiness of the film is wearisome for them as they phone in the word "quantum" over and over again.
Despite these lesser elements, Ant-Man and the Wasp turns out to be a charming, funny, and even sometimes moving family film that understands the true entertainment value of what it means to be a comic book movie. It doesn't reinvent the MCU wheel, but it knows it doesn't have to in order to provide a good time.