'Ant-Man and the Wasp' Is Exceedingly Silly, and That's a Relief
Early on in Ant-Man and the Wasp, there's a montage that feels like it could be out of a different Paul Rudd movie. Rudd's Scott Lang is on house arrest because of that whole going-to-Germany-and-fighting-with-Captain America thing, and he's got three days left before he can leave. So he does solo karaoke to "Come On Get Happy," reads The Fault in Our Stars, studies close-up magic online, and jams out on an electric drum kit. It's purely silly Paul Rudd, the dude you see talking about "slappin da bass" in I Love You, Man. And, boy, is it a relief to see in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Because the last time we visited the MCU, things had gotten grim. Despite moments of humor, Avengers: Infinity War liberally sprinkled the deaths of beloved characters throughout its run time, and then ended with half of the heroes turning to dust. Not so fun! Confusingly -- but luckily, too -- Ant-Man and the Wasp, directed by Peyton Reed, rolls back the clock and takes place before Thanos snaps his chubby purple fingers. The result is a movie that is joke-for-joke one of Marvel's funniest.
In the interim years between the first Ant-Man and this one, Scott has become estranged from daughter-father duo Hope van Dyne and Hank Pym (Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas). He's been housebound with an ankle monitor, making time to play with his daughter and open up a security business with his pal Luis (Michael Peña). Meanwhile, the Pyms have been -- oh, you know -- building an elaborate contraption to rescue Hope's mother, Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), from the Quantum Realm, where she's been trapped for 30 years after going "subatomic" in her Wasp suit. Casual! Scott is entirely disconnected from this, but gets an eerie vision of Janet, and, lo, he's pulled into the machinations.
Ant-Man and the Wasp's narrative is extremely contained. Both our heroes and their foes just want access to the lab that Hope and Hank have built, which, by the way, can shrink into handy suitcase size. The ostensible main villain Ghost (Hannah-John Kamen) has designs to use the technology to heal herself. An accident from her childhood involving the Quantum Realm has rendered her partially non-corporeal and caused her extreme pain. She thinks if she can access it -- which Hope and Hank are trying to do to save Janet -- she can stop the agony. Still, even though she has beef with Hank, she’s hellbent on getting better, not destruction. So, yeah, no one here is out to take over the world, which isn't to say the movie is completely devoid of dramatic tension. It refreshingly tends to arise from a more emotional place, even if Ghost's backstory is slightly under-baked.
Still, you also really aren't coming to this for a lot of nuance. It's not a chamber drama -- or even Black Panther, for that matter -- and admittedly the pace tends to slow down the more serious the circumstances get. That's all the more noticeable because the rest of plot is executed with such a sense of zippy glee.
Thor: Ragnarok got a lot of credit for deploying Taika Waititi's off-kilter, intonation-based brand of humor, but the savvy with which Ant-Man and the Wasp unleashes its broad gags should not be ignored. For one, the Ant-Man and Wasp powers -- shrinking and growing themselves and other items -- allow for set pieces that are actually visually amusing rather than the same old punch-thwack-quip setup. Cars can turn into Hot Wheels-sized vehicles; seagulls pose a hilarious threat.
At the same time, the screenplay -- on which Rudd is a credited writer -- features a series of running bits that give the actors room to flex. While the first Ant Man seemed a little too interested in casting Rudd as a dashing action hero, this one leans into his goofy side and physical comedy prowess (now with abs!). This leaves room for Evangeline Lilly to take up the mantle of preeminent ass-kicker, which was what she always deserved.
Peña, as born storyteller Luis, remains the absolute gem in the ensemble -- his tangents this time involve Morrissey and makeout sessions -- but newcomers like Randall Park and Walton Goggins also do their part. (Goggins turns up his Southern drawl to an extra level of ludicrous menace as a slimey arms dealer.) Strangely enough, the most marquee names -- Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer -- end up fading into the background.
There are moments you wish Ant-Man and the Wasp just forgot about all of its technical mumbo jumbo, but the good thing is that the laughs are worth it. I'm not going to list all of the best jokes -- that would be a bigger spoiler than revealing the ending, in my opinion -- but come on. There are a bunch of big-ass ants here, including one who takes a bath and plays the drums. What more do you want?