With Ant-Man and the Wasp, director Peyton Reed posits that an emphasis on fun trumps prioritized continuity any day. This is a healthy, even encouraged mindset for any self-respecting Marvel director. Unburdened by the pressures of a multi-film narrative, Reed’s inconsequential story functions as a two-hour pause between Infinity War and its upcoming sequel, a respite from the cosmic chaos threatening to end it all. The film is Reed’s response to one of that blockbuster’s biggest head-scratchers: “What was Ant-Man doing as the world fell to shit?” The answer, hilariously, is nothing. The ex-con was enduring house arrest while many of his comrades spent their final moments getting railed by a genocidal alien’s jewel-studded glove. As much fun as that sounds, it wasn’t.
For starters, the Paul Rudd/Evangeline Lilly dynamic feels secondary to the film’s need to justify its existence with jokes. There’s very little ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ in Ant-Man and the Wasp, and by the end the film still expects audiences to believe their chemistry and get behind them as a team. This is problematic for two reasons, the first being that the chemistry isn’t present to begin with and the second being that we don’t really care as much about them together as we do apart. The movie’s mission was to get us excited about the two as a crime-fighting couple, not to reinforce the idea that Hope Van Dyne isn’t important to the MCU at all. The film is Marvel’s roundabout way of explaining Scott Lang’s life under house arrest, an approach that could have been interesting if it wasn’t so dull and forced.
Still, the idea of Scott Lang crawling through cardboard tunnels with his young daughter while the Avengers contend with a significant threat amuses me far more than any of the film’s jokes. It’s true both to Lang’s character and to the nature of the Ant-Man mini-franchise. Reed excels at crafting a self-contained story, a skill that’s on full display here. The goofiness of Ant-Man and the Wasp outclasses that of Thor: Ragnarok (a shit movie), and only because Feige repurposed Lang as down-on-his-luck funnyman before he first appeared. The humor itself isn’t superior to that seen in Taika Waititi’s film, but it’s more deliberate and more consistent with what the studio had planned for the character. Rudd plays the part well; he’s probably one of the only MCU actors capable of elevating the franchise’s comedy simply by showing up on set.
Other reviews have griped about the absence of stakes and a villain, complaints that make sense but shouldn’t be leveled against the film. Unlike its predecessor’s cookie-cutter antagonist, the “villain” of Ant-Man and the Wasp actually boasts some depth. The film’s marketing positioned Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost as the big bad, but there’s far more to her than the “I deserve ALL of the power!” mindset typical of villains of her ilk. She’s not mind-blowingly profound or anything, but she fits well within the story Reed and company are trying to build.
Being the source of the villainess’s problems (in her mind), Hank Pym has an expanded role here. The film explores Hank Pym’s fuckery with surprising clarity; Michael Douglas scowls and scoffs his way through the role, but it works for the ‘brilliant curmudgeon’ shtick Marvel seems to want for the character. Pym deserves better.
Marvel’s recent efforts have lacked the verve and vigor present in earlier endeavors, and Ant-Man and the Wasp is absolutely part of that group. It’s infinitely more fun than Ant-Man, but it fumbles at critical moments (like its entire second half) and lets its playfulness distract from the fact that this is still a story fighting for viewers’ attention. Marvel doesn’t do straight-up comedy well; Guardians of the Galaxy was the closest the studio came to perfecting the formula, and every “comedy” since has felt contrived and unnecessary.
Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t the disappointment its predecessor was, but it’s easily one of Marvel’s silliest, most astoundingly juvenile efforts to date.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is currently playing in theaters.