Returning after far too long an absence, director Peyton Reed and the cast and crew of Ant-Man and the Wasp deliver a wonderful follow-up to the original Ant-Man. In fact, one may leave the theater wondering why it has so long between installments despite the first film being only three years old.
And smartly, the answer lay woven into the grand tapestry of the sequel. Set two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is just a few days from the end of his house arrest (as mentioned in Avengers: Infinity War) and looking to start work as X-Con, a security company he co-founded with Luis (Michael Peña) and the rest of the heist crew from the first film. He is also looking forward to taking daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) to a park or something as their visits over the last few years have been contained to the San Francisco apartment he and Luis share. But right at the start, Ant-man and the Wasp re-establishes one of Scott’s best attributes: his dedication to Cassie. Using cardboard and papier-mâché ants, he creates an Ant-Man adventure to share with her — complete with a sled ride down all three stories of the apartment building. It is such a disarming way to open a film, but it really speaks to the thing which sets the Ant-Man films apart. They are family caper films.
The main plot concerns Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) attempts to extract Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm. Scott, having visited it in the previous film, is the only one who can ascertain her whereabouts in that infinitesimally small reality. Unfortunately, a few other factions also want to find Janet for more dubious reasons. Which sets up a series of heists, counter-heists and car chases.
But like the film itself, the set-pieces are dedicated to fun. Reed and his team devised a number of great new visual gags for the Pym miniaturization tech and new fighting techniques thanks to the dimensionaly unstable Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), the film’s nominal villain.
Anchoring the action are Rudd and Lilly as the title characters. The rapport between is great and the movie avoids most of the cliches one sees when a love interest in film one becomes a co-hero in part two. In fact, their preternatural partnership in combat both pays off their training in the first film and the sense that Ant-Man is incomplete without the Wasp.
In between action scenes, the characters also shine with the film doubling down on the comedic aspects of the first film and a lighthearted approach to threats like Walton Goggins’ Sonny Burch. The banter between, say, Scott and Hank, Hope and Hank, Cassie and Scott, and Luis and anybody, is quick and funny; snappier than even the snappiest of Marvel movies. And all that lightness definitely seeds the patches of darkness within the tale, like Ghost’s tragic backstory. John-Kamen is a formidable addition in this regard as she carries the film’s main drama almost entirely on her shoulders.
If there is a criticism to be found, it may revolve around Ghost as an antagonist. Her situation is so sympathetic that it feels necessary to introduce Sonny and FBI Agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) to give the film more jeopardy. And like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 before it, the narrative does not feel as solid as the original film (in either series). Still, this is a relatively minor complaint as the characters are strong enough to carry the film with a thin plot. In fact, the Ant-Man troupe may be a more fun and engaging set of characters than the Guardians following Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Which, more than anything, feels like the central point of the film. The caper element keeps things moving while the film really revolves around its many relationships and what the characters are willing to do in order to maintain them. While Ant-Man and the Wasp may not be facing the threat of universal oblivion, its attempt to find a long-lost loved one is a lot more engaging and relatable. And that it could make that emotional resonance part of a car chase just reflects what a class act the film is all around.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is in theaters now.