‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ has big laughs and tiny shortcomings
Directed by: Peyton Reed
Written by: Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari, Chris McKenna, Paul Rudd, and Erik Sommers
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Hanna John-Kamen, Walton Goggins, Randall Park, and Michelle Pfeiffer
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” – “It takes two to make a thing go right. It takes two to make it outta sight.” - Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock, “It Takes Two” (1988)
In a recent “Ant-Man and the Wasp” trailer, the aforementioned classic rap song blasts across the screen in crystal clear apropos action-fashion, as the film’s dynamic duo races around San Francisco’s streets – in a quasi-updated version of 1968’s “Bullitt” - and shakes down a host of bad guys.
Actually, the lack of a true noteworthy villain is one of the very few issues with Marvel Studios latest entry. Director Peyton Reed follows up his funny, refreshing 2015 film with an equally enjoyable sequel. Credit the five writers, the cast’s comedic timing and Reed, who gives his talented team the freedom to take chances. Paul Rudd (who is also a co-writer) and Michael Douglas return as the current and former Ant-Men, respectively, but the big change is Dr. Hank Pym’s (Douglas) daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) dons The Wasp uniform, as teased at the end “Ant-Man” (2015).
Although Scott/Ant-Man has kept his sense of humor, he lives under semi-grave means these days. The FBI placed him on house arrest after violating the Sokovia Accords, when he joined Captain America (Chris Evans) and other Avengers in “Captain America: Civil War” (2016), but thankfully, his sentence is nearly finished. Despite his semi-incarceration, Scott keeps a great relationship with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), and she thinks that he is the World’s Greatest Dad, even though she gives him a World’s Greatest Grandma trophy.
Meanwhile Dr. Pym and Hope are trying to reconnect with his wife/her mother, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), the original Wasp. Thirty years ago, Janet shrunk down to an atomic size and has been lost in something called the Quantum Realm ever since.
Dr. Pym and Hope are feverishly trying to find her.
The narrative finds two contentious storylines. One between Scott and Hope, because their relationship has strained. Hope harbors legit reasons to be cross with Scott, and their very early threads of romance – from the last film - have been broken. Rudd continues his on-screen specialty of making his characters infinitely likable. He continues his magic here, but Scott needs to demonstrate huge amounts of contrition and more importantly, plenty of action behinds those words of regret.
Lilly is perfectly cast as Hope. Her character is tough, fierce, skilled, and sharp. She certainly is a worthy Avenger, and Scott usually needs to play superhero-catch-up around her. Their conflicting energy is agreeably contagious, so it becomes very, very easy to wish for their romance to work itself out.
While Scott attempts to repair the previous off-screen emotional damage, the two level some hurt on small-time baddies. This leads into the second struggle: the desperados throw flies into the heroes’ ointment, by suddenly making Dr. Pym, Scott and Hope’s collective search for Janet an increasingly difficult race against time. Although Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) demonstrates wild superpowers, she – unfortunately - is not a smaller part of a greater, criminal enterprise. No Infinity War or giant story tie-ins with her character. Ghost and an arms dealer named Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) present roadblocks in the Pyms’ and Scott’s path, but these adversaries never feel significant or big enough for the film. Their struggle is just secondary, as the quest to locate Janet stands front and center.
Meanwhile, Rudd, Douglas, Michael Pena, Randall Park, and a few others constantly set the tone with hilarious quips and amusing moments. Pena, especially. He steals every scene as a congenial former conman who speaks quickly and has a new affinity for telling the truth in a memorable montage.
Mix lots of comedy with head-scratching technology and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” becomes a much-needed, light reprieve from the difficult events of “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018). Yes, this film does tie into “Infinity War”, but it mainly serves as a stand-alone movie.
This adventure also proves that “it takes two to make a thing go right”, but we hope that Hank and Janet make it four.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.