1. Ant-Man is the least essential of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe characters, and Ant-Man and the Wasp is unquestionably the least essential of the MCU movies, occasionally agreeable but ultimately disposable, a bauble that feels less like a fun side journey and more like a waste of everybody’s time. This year already, Marvel has released two of their most important films, and their two biggest hits: Black Panther, which redefined exactly what a blockbuster could be, and Avengers: Infinity War, which wasn’t nearly as good but still upended the entire MCU in a way that we’re still all recovering from. After those two movies, we’re supposed to care about some people who can make themselves small? Outside the context of the whole MCU world, this is just a minor movie, a cheerful if empty entertainment. But since when are you supposed to be context-free in the MCU? It feels like Marvel twiddling its thumbs.
2. In this film, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is still under house arrest after the events of Captain America: Civil War but days away from release when he receives a message from Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), the mother of Hope/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and wife of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who has been trapped in the Quantum Realm for 30 years and needs him to gather her family so they can save her. Meanwhile, there’s a former colleague of Pym’s (Laurence Fishburne) who wants to help save the life of his adopted daughter Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who is suffering from some sort of quantum displacement, and oh yeah there’s Walton Goggins as an evil entrepreneur who wants Pym’s technology and can you tell we’re in yet another wildly overplotted Marvel movie? One of these days they’re going to make a movie where four superheroes are trapped in a room and just fight for 90 minutes. That would be fine. That would be a relief.
3. Much of the fun of the Ant-Man franchise is playing with perspective, the idea that a superhero can have the strength of a full-sized superhero but be the size of, well, an ant. I still think Edgar Wright would have played around with this idea more than Peyton Reed does, but nonetheless, the movie does have its moments of inspired silliness. I enjoyed the moment when Scott waits for his usual insect to fly him off and away but keeps having his rides intercepted by hungry seagulls. (“Murderers!”) And there’s a big chase sequence that makes up the last half hour of the film that makes good use of San Francisco as a location, particularly the idea that its hills and turns, so glamorized in cinematic chase sequences of the past, take on an entirely different dimension when everyone’s sizes keep getting blown up and shrunken down. The movie’s ending has the jazzy, goofy rhythm that you want from a movie like this.
4. Boy, though, is it ever a slog to get there. The movie is so thickly plotted that whole sections of it are simply characters yelling exposition at each other while running from one place to another. Rudd and company try to keep this moving as well as they can, but after a while, even the “funny” lines start to feel labored and desperate: For a movie that wants to be one of the silly MCU movies, the middle hour of this thing is awfully leaden. It doesn’t help that Scott Lang is a rather dull character in this world; he keeps talking about how he hurts those he loves and how it anguishes him, but I’ll confess, Rudd’s a little too busy making puppy dog eyes and riffing to feel particularly anguished. He’s just kind of a nothing character, and he’s foregrounded for the entire thing. Lilly’s Wasp gets more screen time this go-around, but she’s not much more interesting either, and she also can’t ever quite get a rapport going with Douglas, who might just not be cut out for this superhero movie business. (He always seems to be squinting at a green screen.) And giving him so much play while Michelle Pfeiffer sits around waiting to be rescued feels like a crime. I’d watch a whole movie of just her Catwoman staring down all these dopes.
5. The movie is ultimately harmless, trivial puffery that vanishes from your brain as quickly as you experience it. (The exception in this series remains Michael Pena, whose wild energy seems beamed in from a different, funnier film. I’d rather watch that one.) This ordinarily wouldn’t be a big deal—those Thor movies aren’t exactly world shakers either—but coming in the wake of those last two films, this feels less like a step aside than a step backward. It is perhaps a bad sign that the most consequential moment in the whole film comes after the closing credits, and only earns that consequence because of its connection to an entirely different film altogether. Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t terrible. But it also isn’t much worth the bother.
Director: Peyton Reed
Writer: Paul Rudd, Gabriel Ferrari, Chris McKenna, Andrew Barrer
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Pena, Laurence Fishburne, Walton Goggins, Hannah John-Kamen, Randall Park
Release Date: July 6, 2018