Ant-Man and the Wasp is the quintessential summer blockbuster. A few components reach the level of remarkable, little of it finds consequence or meaning, and it is, at times, truly dull. But for all those middling faults, it manages to become joyous and exciting and even just the tiniest bit fulfilling. Following the dour and overly ambitious Avengers: Infinity War, it just might be the perfect thing.
In that vein, it’s interesting that this would be the most in the weeds a Marvel property has been since, well, Infinity War. We find Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) under house arrest for his part in Captain America: Civil War where he fought alongside Cap and the right Avengers (don’t @ me). They were tossed into superhero supermax prison The Raft, but Lang managed to broker a plea deal that involves two years of house arrest.
It’s not entirely clear how that happened before Steve Rogers broke everyone else out, but now we have Lang back in San Francisco struggling to run his new X-Com security consultancy, maintaining his relationship with his daughter, and being estranged from his former hero contingency of Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). That is, however, until two days before his sentence is up when he experiences a far too real dream of the quantum realm.
And everything that follows is…fine. Perhaps the most impressive part is how self-aware the movie is. As antagonists emerge and twists and turns come out, it’s never at a planet-threatening scale. At stake? A life, a relationship, and maybe a small startup. Following this year of the MCU putting its heel on the throat of the world and then the universe, it’s damn refreshing. Not every story needs to be about saving humanity.
In traversing that avenue, however, this movie also fails to do anything memorable. The MCU has given up on divvying up its properties into appropriate genres (the first Ant-Man under Edgar Wright’s hand was supposed to be a heist film, but at least we got Baby Driver) and now we just have director Peyton Reed doing what he does best: irrepressibly fluff-filled films. To that end, however, this is the most successfully playful any of his movies have been.
The jokes are laugh-inducing but rarely due to the writing or directing. In fact, when there isn’t room for the actors to flex their categorical and immense charm, the theatre is awkwardly silent as the framing, pacing, and dialogue all fail to congeal into anything workable. The winners outpace the losers, but the margins are never that great. Scenes with thoroughly comedic talent at play, though, like with Rudd and Randal Park (they better get a buddy cop outing) or Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale or Walton Goggins and Tip “T.I.” Harris and David Dastmalchian.
The action is titillating but never exciting. It’s hard to even recall a sequence where anything was more captivating than the opening bit with Lang going down a cardboard slide in his house with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). But with the constant size-swapping and nimble camera work, it’s at least visually captivating. And giving someone for Lang to work with besides mind-controlled ants is a blessing, finally fleshing out his physical antics into something less strained and forced.
More than any other movie this year, this film works solely because of its cast. Fortson is a standout, making Cassie and Lang’s relationship something uniquely special. Rudd once again brings the Paul Rudd heat and is the most infinitely charming man to grace the silver screen. He could put mayonnaise on fries and he would still be a ranked treasure. They combine to highlight a true MCU rarity, too, in a functional and healthy father-child dynamic.
We also are given a grander view of what Lilly can do as Hope, being equally snappy, domineering, funny, and loving rather than just…a haircut, I guess. She pulls off the physicality of the role as she takes the lead in the set pieces while walking the tender line between straight man and stooge without being obnoxious in either. And even though the story doesn’t do it justice, Lilly and Rudd make their romance work. (It also fails to flesh Hope out beyond being a reckoning despite having perhaps the most reason to be a complex and interesting character.)
The absolute highlight, though, is once more Michael Peña’s Luis, Lang’s former cellmate and current business partner (along with the rest of their inept crime group). They bring back the best part of the original film where he operates as an unreliable narrator while the actors play out his fantastical interpretation of the truth, and goddamn is it good. He takes a character that could have easily been exhausting and instead is inexhaustibly fun and lovable.
Despite what the trailer would have you think, the movie is never as rote as its “It Takes Two” trappings would have you believe. But it’s also not as innovative or substantial as it could be or wants to be. It’s a perfectly fine film that never reaches the level of great, but at this point in a convoluted MCU full of poorly maintained lies, reach exceeding grasp, and broken promises of wholly intertwined continuity, it’s exceedingly welcome.
Final Score: 8 out of 10