Look, no one is going to argue that Ant-Man and/or the Wasp are Marvel’s most beloved, most important, or most well-known characters. No one is going to defend the Ant-Man franchise as one of the jewels of Marvel’s crown. I’m not even going to defend Ant-Man and the Wasp, the sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man, as one of Marvel’s best movies. It’s thoroughly middle of the pack, as far as the greater cinematic universe goes. But it is super fun. And not only is it the perfect antidote to the grandeur and heartbreak of Avengers: Infinity War, it’s also the perfect antidote to our general everything-is-on-fire-all-the-f*cking-time existence. It’s honestly a little hard to separate Ant-Man and the Wasp’s actual quality from what a lovely break it is from reality.
It is definitely a low stakes movie. Peyton Reed returns as director, and without the carcass of Edgar Wright’s ideas hanging over his every choice, he hones in on what makes Ant-Man work as a character and a franchise. Chiefly: family, comedy, and visual gags. Wasp works on a very lean story frame, which leaves the movie open to indulge in fun character interactions and zippy action sequences that use the shrinking and embiggening visual effects to just the right degree. It’s a modest movie of modest ambition, and it’s like everyone is keyed into making it work within its own modest scope and not trying to be any more than it is—a nice, fun movie about family and teamwork.
Like all the recent solo-character Marvel movies, Wasp works well on its own, set between Civil War and Infinity War and only slightly beholden to the former and not at all to the latter. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is under house arrest following Civil War, and he hasn’t spoken to Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) or Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) since his antics in that movie forced them to go on the lam for possessing newly unregulated superhero tech. This is the family component—Scott has to mend fences with Hank and Hope, while still trying to uphold his house arrest so he can see his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). Cassie Lang, by the way, does a LOT of talking about how she wants to help people like her dad—Cassie is a feature member of the Young Avengers, so you know that movie is coming sooner rather than later.
Wasp quickly and efficiently sets up the story, establishing Hank’s incredible shrinking laboratory as the Macguffin everyone is chasing. This is one of the smartest decisions in Wasp—it’s essentially just a chase movie. The Pyms and Scott are trying to rescue Hope’s mother, Janet Van Dyne aka OG Wasp (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has been stuck in the Quantum Realm—you know this will come back in Avengers 4—for decades, there’s a villain called Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who is trying to get the lab and its tech for her own reasons, and there is an arms dealer, Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins, 0% crazy hair), who wants to get the lab and sell it. Meanwhile, the FBI, led by Agent Woo (Randall Park, PERFECT), is trying to catch Scott out of house arrest. There is a great Bullitt reference that plays all the better because the whole movie feels like a giant chase. Wasp moves at a breezy clip, aided by the gotcha-getcha plotting.
This is also the first Marvel movie to feature a title heroine. Lilly doesn’t miss her moment, clearly enjoying the hell out of playing a superhero and Reed and his company of writers—which includes Paul Rudd—don’t even pretend like she isn’t the real star. At every turn Hope outshines Scott, but withstanding a truly unnecessary and formulaic bent toward a romantic connection, the movie succeeds in making them true partners. Their fight has multiple fronts and it really does feel appropriate that they work together to succeed, even if Hope is clearly the superior superhero.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is not the best Marvel movie and it won’t be anyone’s favorite, but it is one of their funniest. And it is nice to see a Marvel movie that isn’t about the end of the world/universe, and doesn’t need sky lasers, invading aliens, robots, or magic. Scott and Hope are the most “real” of the Avengers, and Wasp succeeds for its relative normalcy amidst the other, grander movies. It does miss a step with Ghost, who only works because of John-Kamen’s sheer intensity—it would be interesting to see this character meet Bucky Barnes—but that’s a minor complaint in an otherwise delightful chase caper.