Film Review: ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ takes promising steps forward for Marvel

ant man and the wasp
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When director Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man first grazed the big screen back in 2015, hardly anyone who wasn’t familiar with the comics knew who this character was – myself included. A hero who can shrink to the size of an insect and telepathically control entire ant colonies? Sounds pretty niche, but slap the “Marvel” logo on it, and you’ve got a damn good selling point.

Despite the character’s lack of notoriety, Ant-Man turned out to be a pretty fun time, concealing Marvel’s formula within a heist movie and yielding some funny, action-packed results. However, that doesn’t mean it was perfect. In fact, one of the biggest issues I had with it was that Scott Lang/Ant-Man’s (Paul Rudd) opportunity to rise as a hero came at the expense of severely sidelining another important character: Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly).

Yes, I realize that the movie is called Ant-Man for a reason, and Rudd is as endearing and charismatic as ever in the titular role, but I found myself increasingly more interested in Hope’s backstory. Scott has an adequate skill-set, but Hope is clearly the most capable figure on screen and probably more adept to take on these responsibilities than Scott or her father, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas)

With Ant-Man and the Wasp, Hope (and Lilly) finally gets her time to shine as the Wasp, marking the first time that a female character has been featured in the title of an MCU movie (“It’s about damn time,” Hope fittingly sums up in the post-credits scene of Ant-Man). Ant-Man and the Wasp is, for the most part, standard Marvel-fare, but it corrects many of Ant-Man’s problems, making it a fitting and improved sequel.

Ant-Man and the Wasp picks up shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War, in which we find Scott Lang in his final days of house arrest, and estranged from Hope and Hank. When Scott experiences a vision of Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) trapped within the Quantum Realm, he reunites with Hope (who has now assumed the role as the Wasp) and Hank to find a means of freeing Janet via a device that Hope and Hank have been working on in their portable laboratory, which they can shrink and enlarge as needed.

Standing in their way are a few outside parties after the heroes’ quantum technology: Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), an antagonist whose cellular structure causes her to phase through objects, and Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), a crook who sold Hope several parts for the device, and now wants to reap its benefits. The resulting movie is a rescue mission interlaced with a prolonged chase for the tech.

This installment very much falls in line with the MCU’s general tropes – great action, great performances, comedic beats, weak villains – but let’s break that down a little more.

As I alluded to before, Lilly fucking rocks as Hope/Wasp; her introductory action-sequence is a true coming-out party – inventive, fun and kick-ass. She shares the spotlight just as much as Rudd’s Scott/Ant-Man, which was a breath of fresh air for this viewer. Virtually all of the main cast members bring their A-Game, with Michael Douglas elevating many of the emotional beats (which in turn is elevated by some incredible de-aging CGI), and Michael Peña delivering the comedic beats as Luis.

I do wish we got more of a sense of the partnership between Ant-Man and the Wasp during the action sequences, but I still enjoyed the developments in Scott and Hope’s relationship. In terms of action, Reed pulls off these scenes in a visually stunning way. The shrink technology utilized in the first movie is present here as well, which allows the filmmakers to incorporate that concept in more unique ways throughout this movie.

As for the villains, they feel very onenote. Ghost had the potential to be compelling simply because she doesn’t fit the bill of a typical villain – her motivations are easily understood, and her goals conflict with our heroes’. However, the movie doesn’t spend enough time developing her character to capitalize on that potential. Sonny Burch didn’t need to be in the movie; it seemed like he was included just to be another obstacle for the protagonists, and nothing more. I would have preferred they spend more time on Ghost instead.

Despite those familiar tropes, what really sets Ant-Man and the Wasp apart for me is its focus on the theme of family. As much as this movie is about Scott’s Ant-Man and Hope’s Wasp, it’s also about the people who held the mantle before them, Hank and Janet. We understand from the first Ant-Man how much Hope and Hank love Janet, and the fact that they’re willing to risk so much just for the possibility of saving her says a lot.

Within Scott’s side of the story, Ant-Man and the Wasp does a good job of building on Scott’s relationship with his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). Scott is primarily motivated by his love for Cassie, and while that was certainly conveyed in Ant-Man, the pair actually don’t share that much screen-time together. In Ant-Man and the Wasp, the movie takes the time to show Scott and Cassie playing together and doing more father-daughter activities – to the best of Scott’s ability, since he’s still under house-arrest. Scott’s love for Cassie is mirrored within Hank’s love for Hope, and their love for Janet. Above everything, it’s these familial connections and personal stakes that propel the story forward.

Ant-Man and the Wasp won’t blow away expectations, but it demonstrates the promising steps that Marvel has taken to be more inclusive with its casting and representation, and I think the results speak for themselves.

…And a final note on post-credits scenes: Yes, the first scene does address how these characters are or are not affected by the events of Avengers: Infinity War. The second scene isn’t necessary to stay for; if you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve already seen this post-credits scene.

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