2015’s Ant-Man had a complicated and contentious history, rife with fan disappointment over the departure of director Edgar Wright, who was replaced with the safer, less inspired Peyton Reed. It featured a hell of a cast — Paul Rudd as reformed criminal Scott Lang, Michael Douglas as miniaturization genius Hank Pym, Evangeline Lily as Pym’s scientist daughter Hope van Dyne, and Michael Peña, Tip Harris, and David Dastmalchian as Scott’s trio of goofball friends/partners in crime. It was ultimately that cast that elevated what was a relatively pedestrian film into a surprisingly entertaining superhero movie, even if it wasn’t particularly memorable. The cast was bolstered by some truly impressive visuals, but the story (and yet another unimpressive Marvel villain in the misused Corey Stoll) wasn’t particularly engaging. It was bound for a sequel, as all MCU films are, but it remained to be seen if it could shake off the cobwebs and grow into something more engaging.
That brings us to Ant-Man and the Wasp, the sequel that takes place a couple years after the events of Captain America: Civil War. As a result of his helping Captain America and company in that film, Lang has been put under house arrest while Pym and Hope are living on the run, accessories since it was their technology that Lang used. Yet all this time, they’ve been working with a singular focus on trying to find and reconnect with Janet van Dyne, Hank’s wife and Hope’s mother, long-thought lost to the quantum realm. As they get closer to realizing their dream, their plans are derailed by a trio of disparate forces — the FBI, bent on monitoring Scott while catching Hope and Hank, a black marketeer named Sonny Burch (the ever-reliable Walton Goggins), and most ominously a mysterious suited woman known only as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who has the ability to phase through solid matter. All of them are chasing both the trio of Scott, Pym and van Dyne as well as trying to get their hands on their revolutionary tech, each for their own reasons.
What ensues is nothing short of a terrific hero-laced crime caper, with chase scenes galore, the occasional bout of gunfire and fisticuffs, some hilarious and eye-popping effects, and a hell of a lot of clever, witty banter. Ant-Man and the Wasp works by taking all of the best parts of its predecessor and building on them, while also working with some new innovations. Its best decision is hands-down giving a larger role to Evangeline Lily as Hope/The Wasp. Clad in her own suit, she flies and fights her way through the film, becoming not just the equal partner that Lang needs to keep his ass out of the various fires, but becoming her own central character. Hope is written far more smartly here than in the first film, a sharp-eyed, quick-witted, and surprisingly funny warrior who flinches at nothing. Lily emerges from the shadows and becomes a true half of a perfect whole, and she and Rudd play beautifully off of each other, executing terrific timing both physically and comedically.
The second best character is probably Rudd, who turns in another performance that shows his ridiculous charm. Bumbling and grinning with boyish glee and a silly overconfidence, he’s impossible not to love. He’s confident but never cocky, clever without being smarmy, just the perfect type of low-key everyman who is a perfect foil for the brilliant, laser-focused Hope. Yet despite both of them turning in great performances, one of the film’s finest comes from Hannah John-Kamen as Ghost. This is an all-new type of villain for the MCU, a tortured, anguished, angry woman whose motivations are deeply personal. There’s a bit of vengeance thrown in, sure, but there’s much more to her than that. It’s an impressive and satisfying turn that showcases both a well-written character and an outstanding performance.
Finally, it should be noted that the story is vastly improved over its predecessor. Much like its predecessor and the excellent Spider-Man: Homecoming, it eschews the world-ending threats that so often bloat other superhero movies. Instead, it’s a small, almost intimate film, focusing only on the lives of our heroes and their antagonists. No one wants to rule the world or destroy it, and the film is better for it. The story is also smarter, and more emotionally affecting. Gone is Scott’s angsty family problems; instead he’s got a lovely bond with his daughter and surprisingly charming, supportive relationships with his ex-wife (Judy Greer) and her husband (Bobby Cannavale). The tension between Hope and Hank Pym is also removed, heightening that sense of familial intimacy, and the whole film just feels cozier and more fun. Other than Goggins and his gang of goons, the enemies and conflicts feel almost understandable, even relatable. In these ways, it shares a great deal of thematic similarities with Homecoming, and it’s my hope that we’ll get more of these smaller, more low-stakes, character-focused films from the Marvel Universe.
Ant-Man and the Wasp takes its original characters and brings them to newer, more rarified heights. It builds on the relationships formed in the first film, creating a stronger, more effective, more emotionally engaging film. It’s sweet and funny, while also breathlessly exciting and dizzily choreographed. A welcome escape from the gloom and doom of Infinity War, the film is perfect summer fare, a breezy, funny, entertaining bit of heist-and-chase escapism.