Think about the time when the Marvel Cinematic Universe was most exciting, before you unconsciously stored up money for the next inevitable installment. Think about when the MCU had to work hardest to earn your interest. Search your heart, you know it to be true: it was during Phase 1. It was during the days when the connected universe was but a series of scintillating inklings, when post-credits scenes were teases in standalone stories rather than the routine. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” feels like one of those movies.
Coming off of “Infinity War”, in which there were so many superheroes that few of them got their due, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” feels like returning home after a long flight—one that was turbulent because it had to dodge super beings throwing moons at each other. The original “Ant-Man” was refreshingly low-stakes, but the firing of director Edgar Wright marred the project before it even began filming. Wright is perhaps the most brilliant action-comedy filmmaker alive. His replacement, Peyton Reed, is far from that.
“Ant-Man” felt like a strange Wright/Reed hybrid. It only had traces of Wright’s zippy visual humor, and Peyton downplayed his signature sentimentality in an attempt to be Wright-lite. The typical Marvel shortcomings stuck around too—namely a villain utterly devoid of personality. But “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is Reed’s movie, and it’s stronger for it.
This does mean that the leftover visual wit of the original is gone. But Reed is a filmmaker with heart, and it beats louder in the sequel: “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is first and foremost a film about family. Its motive revolves around rescuing family. Its best character moments have family at the center. The emotional core is obvious, but it’s sweet enough to carry a movie this simple.
And thank Odin, the simplicity! It’s small-scale, fun, and almost completely disconnected from the rest of the franchise. Its stakes are personal rather than universal: this isn’t another quest to save the galaxy; it’s a pleasant series of antics, the antithesis of the MCU’s bombast as of late. What a cool glass of lemonade in the superhero genre. Not since “Ant-Man” or “Iron Man” has a Marvel movie stood alone this nicely.
Speaking of men: “Ant-Man and the Wasp” highlights how sorely the MCU needs a female-led superhero movie. Evangeline Lilly’s fierce capability as The Wasp makes Ant-Man look listless—which is the screenplay’s intent, but Lilly’s performance deserves even more credit. How has it been over a decade without a woman at the frontline? We need a Wasp movie immediately after “Captain Marvel”.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” isn’t the first female-led MCU film, but it is the first without a villain. There are no main antagonists. There are different people with different goals, and their interests collide. Consequently, the conflict is the most believable in the entire franchise, which is a joy to sit back and soak in.
Though there are some problems to upset your good time: the screenplay, which was written by five people, could’ve used another edit (and four less writers). Multiple characters explain their entire backstories right after they’re introduced, making it near impossible to care about them later, as there was no time to build investment in them. The plot meanders from MacGuffin to MacGuffin—throw “quantum” in front of an item and voila, the protagonists must chase it down. That’s not a compelling way to structure a story.
Lesser comedy filmmakers tend to suck the structure out of their movies, preferring to set up scenes for jokes above anything else. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is suitably funny and lighthearted, but it could’ve used the tight plotting of, say, Edgar Wright. Much of the second act drags without it.
Thankfully, the third act is deliriously amusing. Once the plot allows for all the competing motives to clash, the quantum MacGuffins make for unique battle dynamics. The action choreography is fluid and humorous, the visual effects are exquisite, and the performances are commendable. Paul Rudd is as charming as ever and Michael Douglas reminds us why he’s a legendary name in the industry. Michelle Pfeiffer is a welcome face in the Universe too.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is what Marvel hasn’t been in a while: a simple, fun time at the movies. A fine summer time indeed.