Reviewed in the United States on July 8, 2018
Movie review: After the emotional carnage of INFINITY WAR, the MCU needed to allow us fans to catch our breath and decompress, and ANT MAN AND THE WASP allows us to do just that in a movie that is essentially a partial sequel to CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. It takes part in that corner of the MCU occupied by Scott Laing, whom we last saw fighting alongside Cap at the Berlin Airport in what might still be my favorite scene in any Marvel movie to date. Missing from that throw down was any mention of Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne, the father and daughter duo who came up with the technology that allowed Scott to become Ant Man in the first place. In the opening act A & W, which has a lot of set up and catching up, we learn just what everyone has been up to and why Scott was MIA in INFINITY WAR.
The plot of ANT MAN AND THE WASP turns on a dangling plot thread from the first Ant Man film, mainly the possibility that Hank’s wife and Hope’s mother, Janet, is still alive in the Quantum Realm (a microverse below the subatomic level), having been presumed lost there many years earlier during a mission with her husband. The three main protagonists, who have become estranged after the events of CIVIL WAR, are now forced by events to reunite on a mission to rescue Janet, but they are soon being pursued by two different sets of villains with two very different agendas with the common goal of obtaining Pym’s technology for their own use. Then there is the FBI, which has had Scott under house arrest, making any involvement by him in any of Pym’s plans very problematic. This sets up a very straight forward narrative, where the heroes have to break into and break out of various tight spots, getting captured at least once along the way, not to mention a number of chase sequences and fight scenes where the CGI gets to shine. This leads to a finale where everything is on the line and multiple characters are in serious peril, both in this world and the Quantum Realm; pretty much your typical Marvel movie.
And that is just fine, as this installment of the MCU keeps the stakes small, sometimes literally, as the world is never in danger, and there is no super Big Bad out to rule or ruin. There is a lot of easy going humor that rises out of character and situation – many laughs are had at the expense of Scott’s problems with his malfunctioning Ant Man suit, leaving him the size of child or a giant at inopportune times. There is the welcome return of Michael Pena as Scott’s ex-con partner in a new security business; Pena takes a part that could have been nothing more than comic relief and does something so much more with it. The action scenes, especially the chases through the streets of San Francisco, are a true highlight as the laws so physics are thrown out the window while speeding vehicles go from normal size to matchbox and back again. This is one of those times where they don’t try to overwhelm us with CGI, unlike INFINITY WAR and DOCTOR STRANGE where you can clearly see where actors spent all day going through their motions in front of a green screen. If the super sized ants are less than realistic, the producers clearly let us know it is all right with a wink to the audience by having a certain sci fi classic from the 50’s be conveniently playing on a TV set in one scene.
If I do have a complaint, it is that A & W lacks a strong villain, as it would have been a great opportunity to showcase Marvel’s ample rogue’s gallery. But The Ghost (played by Hannah John-Kamen), a former assassin for SHIELD who can phase through solid matter, is given a strong motive for her actions, one directly linked to Hank Pym’s past, which allows the audience to empathize with her. The other villain, a technology thief, is played by Walton Groggins with oily Southern charm, who is more comical than threatening, which is okay, but if you are a Goggins fan, then you know he is capable of so much more.
But the rest of the actors are perfectly cast, starting with the returning Paul Rudd as Scott Laing, a part that allows one of the most charming actors in the business to do what he does best, and in Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne, he gets a partner to expertly play off of in their best scenes. Old pro Michael Douglas returns as Hank Pym, one of the essential characters of the Marvel Universe and in The Avengers history. What is so great in this installment is that Douglas’s Hank is paired with Michelle Pfeiffer in the role of Janet, another great Marvel legacy character. Last year saw the return of Michael Keaton to comic book movies in SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING; and it is fitting that this summer sees the best Catwoman ever follow in the steps of the best Batman of them all. Welcome back Michelle Pfeiffer, it has been too long. Speaking of welcome, Laurence Fishbourne turns up as Bill Foster, the Giant Man of that great run of Avengers comics from the 80’s. Randall Park is FBI agent Jimmy Woo, another longtime Marvel character, my only problem is that Park plays him for laughs, a departure from the Jimmy Woo of the comic books.
One of the continuing themes that many might not pick up on is the relationship between fathers and daughters, and the unbreakable bond it forms, whether it is between Scott and his precocious Cassie, Hank and Hope, or the one between Bill Foster and Ava, aka The Ghost.
Of course there is the requisite mid credit scene, and the elephant in the room when it starts is INFINTIY WAR and the consequences of Thanos’s victory; suffice to say that this scene delivers on its promise and leaves Scott in a most precarious situation, one that may be resolved in the next Avengers film; I wonder if a throwaway line about time displacements in the Quantum Realm is a clue to how Scott might be rescued. I thought we might get a scene that also lets us know the fate of Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton as well, as he was also absent from INFINITY WAR, but the whereabouts of Hawkeye remains a mystery.
And I do wonder if I was the only one who thought we might get a hint at the existence of the Micronauts when Hank Pym first enters the Quantum Realm, you really have to be old school Marvel to remember them.