Ant-Man and The Wasp is a return to delightful form for Marvel’s oddly dismissed micro-macro-superhero, reassembling the crew from 2015’s joyful original that was still plagued with behind the scenes turnover. The smooth sailing this time makes for a breezy ride of simple pleasures, particularly in contrast to the high-stakes of the summer’s Avengers: Infinity War extravaganza of grimness. Ant-Man and his cohorts were conspicuously missing from those events, explained here by a house arrest sentence after he took part in the mishegoss of Captain America: Civil War.
However, notice how deferential to other titles and events this sequel is despite being posited as a supposed breather from the larger franchise. There’s something inhibitive to the film’s frivolous, easy digestibility that in stands in stark contrast to its predecessors. While the film so clearly wants us to enjoy ourselves more than most, it’s passively ambivalent toward reestablishing character or deepening what makes this batch special. Yes, we sometimes want our superhero adventures to be this light and unencumbered, but we also want to be able to invest in the heroes we are rooting for as well. And this denial of what we crave isn’t just rooted in an underused Michelle Pfeiffer as The Wasp’s long lost mother Janet Van Dyne.
Long believed to be dead, Janet is discovered to exist in a molecular dimension after communicating through the void to the homebound Scott Lang. Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne (the still surprisingly well-matched Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly) recruit Scott to help rescue Janet while evading the authorities. A visit to Hank’s former rival Bill Foster (hey, Laurence Fishburne is in this too!) collides the team with the vengeful Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen, given little to do but displaying a palpably sad rage), who seeks to hijack Hank’s technology to correct the wrongs his research wreaked on her now cellularly weaponized body.
Paul Rudd is more muted this round as Scott and the shape-shifting Ant-Man, making his resizing antics and the supporting players around him like Michael Peña become the true star players. Lilly’s Wasp is the more invigorating hero, with personal stakes established by the actress’s underestimated ease with genre material. One wishes this was closer to director Peyton Reed’s more precise and specific work, though his hand here remains comedically confident.
Ant-Man and The Wasp functions on the barest bones of genre formula with its passion lying almost exclusively in its inventive ways to play with scale. As much fun as the film generates from its whizbang effects, the Marvel brand of creating funny and compelling characters is undervalued. This film can’t escape feeling like an easily dispensable addendum, one that functions as the very best of amusement park attractions. The escapism here is only knee deep, nowhere near close enough to capture our hearts despite its solidly constructed set pieces.