Small stakes don’t stop ‘Ant-Man and The Wasp’ from being big fun.

2015’s Ant-Man provided audiences a lighter mood in the Peyton Reed-directed heist film which helped to soften the blow of the largely serious Age of Ultron. It also acted as a backdoor introduction to Captain America: Civil War, a film in which Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang would play an important role. Considering the enormous emotional weight that has hung around the neck of every MCU fan since the end of Avengers: Infinity War, released in April 2018, it’s a welcome relief that Reed and his band of misfits arrive once more, offering a brief reprieve from Thanos’s galaxy-changing snap, as Lang, Hank Pym, Hope van Dyne, and Lang’s ex-con friends once more seek to save the day, on the small scale, of course.

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Hope van Dyne/The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) running a knife’s edge. Courtesy of Marvel Studios.

When audiences last saw Scott Lang (Rudd), he was a Federal prisoner at the Raft due to his involvement in the scuffle between Avengers members at a Germany airport over the United Nations agreement known as the Sokovia Accords. Lang pled guilty to acting in contrast to the accords and earned himself two-years of house arrest. On the verge of being a free man, Scott is recruited to help Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) recover Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm. If that wasn’t enough, they have to accomplish this while avoiding the mysterious reality-phasing Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) and Lang’s F.B.I. handler Agent Woo (Randall Park). As the only person to ever return from the Quantum Realm and feeling guilty about how his actions in Germany put Hank and Hope on the run as fugitives, Lang agrees to help, even if it means making him a fugitive forever.

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L-R: Hope, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) discuss a plan of action. Courtesy of Marvel Studios.

One of the best things about the Ant-Man films is that their stories hold little bearing on the larger MCU stories. This allows the characters to engage in the other stories while focusing mainly on their own narrative sandbox. Within Ant-Man and The Wasp, Reed and his writer quintet (Spider-Man: Homecoming writers Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers, Rudd, Leave co-writers Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari) craft a story with not just multiple characters, but multiple factions of characters, which engage in a natural way, enabling the story to travel where it needs in-and-out of action sequences without feeling forced. It’s a delightful change of pace as most of the MCU feels as though it’s moving the audience from one action set piece to another without regard for character, whereas the greatest strength of the two entries in the Ant-Man series is the characters. (Don’t believe it? Ask anyone about Michael Peña’s portrayal of Luis and you’ll get all you need to know. And don’t worry, Luis gets a glorious chance to shine that will leave audiences in stitches in the greatest Luis story to end all Luis stories.)

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Luis (Michael Peña) observes the scene. Courtesy of Marvel Studios.

The comedic elements of The Wasp are more natural than the ones of Ant-Man with each moment played straight by the cast, garnering maximum hilarity. Considering most of the leads possess comedic chops (Douglas, Rudd, Peña, Park, and newcomer to the series Walton Goggins), Reed wisely leans on them to make the most out of even the smallest moments. One such moment sees Rudd, Lilly, and Douglas figuring out a way to communicate with Pfeiffer’s Janet which would be a heartfelt, sweet moment if not for the physical delivery of the three as they react to one another. Though there are still exposition-heavy moments, the scribes behind The Wasp recognize it, and in one particularly hilarious scene, subvert it by interrupting a monologue with Scott’s cell phone literally quacking as he receives multiple text notifications, forcing the scene to move on, away from telling and into doing. Additionally, the use of the Pym particle for size augmentation offers up a look at the brilliance of the Hank/Hope team teased within the first Ant-Man and adds to the ridiculousness of an otherwise straight sequences. The duo are a force to be reckoned with and the innovative ways they use their tech on offense and defense tells you everything you need to know about them. Whether that means shrinking cars to store cars in a Hot Wheels case or turning their entire lab into an airplane carry-on, the shear insanity of how Hank, Janet, and Lang use their tech makes every moment feel fresh and unique.

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Ant-Man catching a ride. Courtesy of Marvel Studios.

The narrative choice to put Hank and Hope on the run from federal agents is the most flimsy part of the film with the reasoning behind it being so thin that it borders on frustrating. It’s the kind of plot contrivance that CinemaSins and all the other negative-focused culture critics will jump all over and there’s no arguing that, once you put any ounce of thought into it, the weakness of it can’t be ignored. While it makes sense for the story and the ease by which it creates dramatic tension, it’s also the most absurd aspect of The Wasp, a film in which audiences believe every unrealistic moment as it stretches the bounds of science fiction gleefully. As such, it puts a slight damper on the fun. Once ignored, however, The Wasp begins a righteous, fun-filled ride as much of the fun of The Wasp is watching the characters get into and out of trouble.

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Ant-Man in flight. Courtesy of Marvel Studios.

So if you’re still reeling from the snap felt throughout the galaxy, Ant-Man and The Wasp is the perfect aperitif to cleanse your palette before Captain Marvel’s debut in March 2019. Like Scott Lang, The Wasp’s full of heart, possesses a unique comedic view, and offers a delightful respite from what ails you. But do keep in mind that just like the original Ant-Man backed into Captain America: Civil War, The Wasp backs into the events of Avengers: Infinity War. If you believe that past is merely prologue, than what’s to come in 2019 is going to blow our socks off.

Final Score: 4 out of 5.

An alternate version of this review was published on CLTure on July 4, 2018.

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Categories: CLTure, In Theaters, Publications, Reviews, Uncategorized

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