Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Ant-Man was far from one of my favorite Marvel movies. I thought of it as Deadpool lite, as the Ryan Reynolds film was already being talked up at the time Paul Rudd's superhero hit the big screen. It felt like Marvel introduced Ant-Man in an attempt to jump on the humorous anti-hero bandwagon, and maybe try to do an end-run like Deep Space 9 did with Babylon 5.
For me, the character was barely interesting. I believe a typical Marvel cameo was thrown in for no reason (something that they seem to have been avoiding in recent films), but largely it felt like it had nothing to do with the larger story they were trying to (sporadically) tell. That was until Ant-Man became the cameo, showing up to lend his aid to his favorite star-spangled hero in Captain America: Civil War. Here Ant-Man revealed his power to grow in both directions, and was more interesting in the few minutes of screen time he had than in the entire solo movie. It didn't help that Ant-Man meant sitting through yet another origin story.
This left me wondering why they would follow up a movie with actual story, as well as major departures from their normal pattern, in Avengers: Infinity War with another Ant-Man movie - especially since Infinity War ended with half the universe turned to ash. My first thought was wondering if Ant-Man and the Wasp would take a more serious turn, depending on whether it took place before or after the most recent events. I was also thinking that this is an extraneous movie I have to get through in case there is a callback in Avengers: Endgame.
Scott Lang's (Paul Rudd) antics in Captain America: Civil War resulted in his two-year house arrest. We begin the movie toward the end of that stretch, with Lang remotely helping to run a security form with former inmates and associates. He is looking forward to his freedom (even though he has three years of parole to deal with), and he is under constant surveillance by FBI detective Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), who is just waiting for him to screw up.
As for Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), they have no love lost for Lang. His actions have forced them into hiding, taking advantage of a portable lab in which they are realizing Pym's tunnel to make travel to and from the quantum realm possible. The one thing that Lang did was go subatomic and return, giving them hope that they can bring Pym's wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) back after 30 years. When they turn on the machine it turns out that Lang became quantum entangled with Janet, and he begins dreaming of her the moment the machine is turned on.
Reluctantly, Pym and Hope must enlist his help. Unfortunately, their quantum machine is not as big of a secret as they hoped, as the lab becomes the target of shady black market technology dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and former S.H.I.E.L.D. stealth operative Ava (Hannah John-Kamen), also known as Ghost and aided by her adopted father (and former colleague of Pym) Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne). While Burch wants the technology for specifically financial reasons, Ava hopes that activating it can help stabilize her cell structure, which causes her great pain by constantly phasing in and out of existence. The problem is that her plans to save herself may result in Janet being lost forever.
One thing Ant-Man and the Wasp does right is pull things back a bit. Typically there's a big bad out to destroy the world (and, in the case of Thanos, half the universe), and we're not looking at anywhere near that scale this time around. This is a much more personal story, with Burch being a more mundane villain (and mainly used, along with Luis [Michael Pena] and the rest of Lang's crew, as comedy relief). Ava, on the other hand, makes some morally questionable moves - at one point even contemplating using Lang's daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Forton) as leverage - but they are specifically so she can survive, as her constant phasing is about to cut her life short.
Director Peyton Reed and writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers also understand this time around that there can only be one Deadpool. Lang has more of his own personality this time around and doesn't come across as a second-rate wise-cracking antihero, but rather as an everyman that is once again drawn into another life out of love and loyalty. This change in tone makes Ant-Man and the Wasp far superior to the character's debut.
That doesn't mean there aren't still some problems. As I said before, most of the best comedic moments are given to Sonny Burch and Luis, and their associates, especially in an hilarious episode revolving around truth serum and a reference to the Mexican-American obsession with Morissey. Paul Rudd on his own has good timing and is quite funny; still, I understand that there is some fear of turning Ant-Man into a clown, but there would have been nothing wrong with giving the star of the show a few of the funnier routines.
Even more glaring is a problem with Janet. While the Quantum Realm is filled with pretty lights and such, there is not much along the line of pizza, wings or, God forbid, kale. There are hints that Janet may have been somewhat changed by her time there, but the change had to be pretty rapid to keep from becoming a pile of pretty, glowing bones. I guess we are supposed to assume the Quantum Realm is magic. This is one of those situations where there should have been an attempt to present pseudo-scientific technobabble just to satisfy some general curiosity about required human functions.
The big, invisible elephant throughout, however, is Thanos. This takes place, largely, sometime before (possibly a number of months) to the events in Avengers: Infinity War. While it explains why Ant-Man was not included in the montage of dying superheroes at the end of the previous film, those events are not touched upon until a mid-credits sequence. While, as far as I know, the main story doesn't set up events for Avengers: Endgame, it is hinted that Ant-Man may play a significant part - just hopefully not in some ways that have been theorized on-line.
While outwardly a strange choice chronologically, perhaps it was a good idea to lighten things up a bit after the heaviness of the previous films, and give us something a little different before we get another origin story in Captain Marvel. At least this sequel made me laugh out loud several times instead of having me search my phone, so it is definitely worth a chance.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Time: 118 minutes
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Hannah John-Kamen, Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer
Director: Peyton Reed