When I look back over the Marvel films, the idea that they don’t work without all of the ironic humor is inescapable to me. I recall Black Panther, and I realize that one of the reasons I didn’t care for it is that the film played it too straight and took itself too seriously. As a result, it came off hokey. It’s the humor that lubricates the gears between reality and the incredible worlds that the comic book films have created. Without the humor, the Marvel machine doesn’t work as well. All of this is to say that Ant-Man and the Wasp feels like a sitcom wrapped in an action-adventure movie, and that isn’t a bad thing.
It’s been a couple of years since the Avengers’ civil war and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is under house arrest for participating in the battle. An ankle monitor ensures he stays put since it’s monitored by the FBI. Scott’s actions have also estranged him from Howard Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), since Scott used their technology during the civil war fracas. A couple of days away from finishing his sentence, Lang has a strange dream about Howard’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), who was believed to be lost when she went subatomic 35 years ago. Scott’s dream, however, renews hope in Howard that Janet can be saved using new technology. Unfortunately, other parties are also interested in the technology and will stop at nothing to retrieve it.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is an oddity when it comes to modern superhero movies in that the stakes are relatively low. There’s no alien invasion, villain from the past looking for revenge, or technology about to be used for evil ends. In fact, the stakes don’t even involve Ant-Man beyond the fact that he cares about his friends and wants them to succeed. As such, the film feels less like an Ant-Man movie and more like an Ant-Man and friends movie. Or perhaps think of it as a mini-Avengers movie where almost every character is of equal importance, doing something supremely meaningful for the plot. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, but it does mean there’s no central character to focus on.
Even if the story is lower key and less focused on a central character, it’s doubtful that audiences will mind. The is a movie about using shrinking and enlarging technology in fun and creative ways. Imagine a car chase scene where vehicles can shrink to the size of Hot Wheels. Envision a fight scene where everyday objects, like a salt shaker, are enlarged and used as improvised obstacles and weapons. When these moments happen, they are fast and dynamic, and audiences will be hard pressed not to smile at the cleverness.
The cast is serviceable but does have some standout players. Paul Rudd is as likeable as ever, inspiring sympathy for his ordinary-man-caught-in-extraordinary-circumstances character. Michael Peña’s Luis is also fun to watch as a loyal friend who might choose otherwise if he were smart enough. Special recognition, however, goes to Abby Ryder Fortson as Scott Lang’s daughter, Cassie. Not only is she wide-eyed and super cute, but she manages to convey the kind of genuineness that only a child can offer. I normally don’t like children in films like this (see Iron Man 3), but in this case, the character is handled well.
Regrettably, a lot of Ant-Man and the Wasp is not compelling. This includes the generic villains, flat new supporting cast, and lack of consequence in the story. Typically, when two opposing forces compete, one side loses. In this case, the story manages to wrap up the movie so that no one walks away unhappy. Moreover, it does so by making up a new contrivance on the spot that no one will understand. But by then, no one will care – they aren’t watching the movie for the story anymore.
Ultimately, Ant-Man and the Wasp is fun. General audiences will have a good time. You don’t even have to be a Marvel fan to enjoy this movie. In fact, if this had just been a generic sci-fi movie about the same technology, then it would be just as fun and enjoyable. That might turn off some of the more hardcore comic fans, but families looking for a good time at the movies can’t go wrong here.