From the very start, it seemed as if Ant-man and The Wasp was going to get the short shrift. Phase 3 has largely been the most successful slate of all in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the last two films being huge box office boons. Following the likes of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War is no easy task. Thankfully, the film isn’t worried by such things, sticking to its already established guns, which is a smart move that leads to a stupendously entertaining summer film… until it trips over its own feet.
In the wake of Captain America: Civil War Scott Lang has spent the past two years under house arrest. He’s used that time to not only become a better man, father and budding businessman, but also managed to learn magic, through Close Up Magic University Online. Things are looking rather up. While relaxing in the bath, days away from having his ankle bracelet removed, he drifts back into the quantum realm. Or at least it seems that way. Turns out the missing Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) implanted a message inside Scott’s mind when he made his quick excursion. Luckily for him, his now estranged former partners, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) are knee deep in a plan to rescue her. They just need Scott’s brain to seal the deal.
Where as the first film was in the fashion of a “heist film,” this falls back on the “race against time” mechanic that slog down most other Marvel efforts. The difference here is that Ant-Man and The Wasp relies on it’s strongest trait to diffuse most shortcomings: whimsy. Other Marvel films may feature humor, never wielding it quite the way done here. Knowing full well the boxes the story must tick, Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers (Spider-Man: Homecoming) don’t so much play with convention, as they make fun of it. A plot-centric chastising is interrupted continually by a phone ringing. An interrogation goes south as the individual being questioned (Michael Pena, still the series MVP) takes the longest route to the shortest answer. It even dispenses with a few twists, traditionally saved for climax, well before the hour mark.
It may elicit groans, but it’s hard not to state what a delight the “small” stakes are here. Since this movie directly occurs simultaneously with Avengers: Infinity War, it would have been foolish to have it be globetrotting affair. Instead, events stick close to the San Fransicso setting and only involve a handful of players. This is, after all a story of rescuing family members, both of blood or adopted, and how the lines between doing the right thing and alienating others, are only separated by a few meters.
The most interesting decision, in terms of plotting, is the lack of a true villain. Yes, Ghost/Eva (Hannah John-Kamen) is featured prominently in the trailers. How the film plays her is both a tad different and rather welcome than what was expected. She’s more so a victim of circumstance, using violence only as a means of clearing a path, than megalomaniac baddie. The same goes for her co-conspirator, who can easily be deduced by process of elimination. Together there’s an emotional connection through which moral acts are committed or trounced, a compromising position for someone whose survival instincts don’t let her see the potential damage she’s causing. Sadly the script doesn’t give her enough screentime to completely dig in to what lies beneath the surface.
Walton Goggins, on the other hand. hews a shade closer to a traditional villain. Even then, his character is merely a black market middleman. His entanglements in the proceedings is only because he believes that “quantum energy” is destined to be the next Gold Rush. What keeps it from being utterly forgettable is Goggin’s trademark ability to imbue the thinnest of characters with a healthy dose of southern charm, befitting only the greasiest of weasels.
For the most part, the whole ride is breezy, lite and effortlessly easy. Then the third act kicks in. Thought it manages to stay entertaining, it drops most of the previous jokieness, in favor of the standard battle finales that are so common in the MCU, which is to say that Ant-Man and The Wasp is worse off when it stops being itself. This isn’t something new. Instead, it’s the main fault plaguing what the studio seems to designate as “second tier” entries.
Marvel has a track record for not letting franchises not named “Guardians” break wildly out of their tight molds. At least, not until the end of each trilogy. Because of those shackles Ant-man and The Wasp only flirts dangerously close to becoming something brilliant. Hopefully next time they let it fly as close to the sun as possible. As it stands, this may just be the perfect answer for mid-summer doldrums, a film entertaining enough to put a smile on your face and distract you just long enough to forget about the heat.