Director: Peyton Reed
Screenplay: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip "T.I." Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas
Runtime: 118 Minutes
Even with the world still reeling in the immediate aftermath of Avengers: Infinity War, the spectacular 10-year celebration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the first part of the end game for the original cast line-up – there wasn’t going to be much to stop the Marvel machine from moving forward even with an entire game-changing storyline in temporary stasis. So, Ant-Man and the Wasp being as rather frivolous entry into the canon sandwiched between two of its bigger profile releases might not work entirely in its favour as far as comparisons go.
To the credit of its creators, this follow-up to the 2015 hit almost prides itself on its ability to take things at a brisker and lighter pace, flesh out some worldbuilding details and spending some time with its non-Avengers characters.
The events spiral out from Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) research into the quantum realm in an effort to retrieve his long-lost wife Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), aided by daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) – who has now officially taken up the mantle as Wasp – and roping in Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to help out given his recent experience there.
There isn’t really much more to breakdown of the actual narrative than that. The entire crux of the film concerns their efforts to assemble various components from other characters across San Francisco in order to build the machine to bring Janet back, and the rest of the plot is filled in with the conflicts that arise from their own desired motivations and drives. It at times feels a little contrived but having so many moving parts moving so fast, with a cast this large and charismatic, gives more than the mere illusion of excitement or narrative engagement.
As with the last film, emotion is the response that the film covets the most and there are a few significant moments of which channel this in unexpectedly touching ways that by all accounts just shouldn’t work as well as they do. The title feels like it holds a double meaning, as the pining story of lost love between Douglas and Pfeiffer holds as much significance as the evolving relationship between Hope and Scott. It’s a nice generational bridge to two separate eras of the MCU.
It feels like a distinctly different creation from the first film. Where the original found a charm in its comparatively smaller scale to its larger brethren, playing things with a loose freedom to explore its premise through the execution small but creative set piece sequences, and a reliance on cast chemistry and comedic dialogue, the sequel hones in more on the action side as it’s sequence of events play out over a ticking clock timeframe. Peyton Reed feels more at home this time around in the director’s chair given that he was allowed to build it from the ground up, instead of salvaging the left-over pieces of the previous production.
Although it’s in smaller quantity than other Marvel films, the action scenes are very well staged even if they rely more on aspects of traditional action cinema – car chases, gun and fist fights – than the gonzo craziness of the original film’s final act. But the third act chase sequence involving shrinking cars is immensely enjoyable.
At times the comedy borders on turning it into an absurdist parody of itself as giant ants routinely enter the frame with welding equipment, and Lang’s suit malfunctions end up leaving him the size of a small child at pints that’s such an off-putting yet hilarious sight that the special effects team have to be commended as well as the actors selling it.
The cast is just as great in their returning roles, Rudd, in particular, gets asked a lot of but manages to sell it with a mix of slacker charm and genuine sincerity. Douglas is still as fantastic a find in the role as he was before, Pfeiffer’s role is briefer than expected but she brings some grounded earnestness that’s appreciated. Once again, Michael Peña steals every scene he’s in as helping hand Luis. Evangeline Lilly steps a foot closer to centre stage as the much-maligned Wasp, and even if her character still feels a like she’s missing an extra component she’s fantastic in the action scenes and a perfect straight foil to Rudd’s goofier antics.
Then there’s Hannah John-Kamen as Ava Starr / Ghost, the supposed antagonist of the piece, and while her position and actual background might be a muddled and half-explored addition that doesn’t quite feel as essential as many of the other subplots – same goes for Laurence Fishburne and Walton Goggins’ characters – it’s good to see a character who is only really being considered a villain because her attempts at survival ultimately end up clashing with the goals of the heroes.
Ant-Man and the Wasp might be a little inessential, but it’s a highly enjoyable distraction that’s driven by a great cast and decent direction, grounds it’s fast-moving sequence of events with some emotional weight and uses it’s time wisely on its own terms.