Director: Peyton Reed
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Michael Douglas, Lawrence Fishburne, Hannah John-Kamen, Michelle Pfeiffer
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Remove the first three words of Ant-Man and the Wasp and this might have been one of Marvel’s best superhero movies to date; after the first film’s finale teased the refreshing prospect of Evangeline Lilly’s Hope suiting up, it’s slightly disappointing to see Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang still taking centre stage. But as the scale of this diminutive franchise expands (as naturally befits a sequel), the spotlight is nudged a little wider, and the smaller that Ant-Man feels in this embiggening world, the better the blockbuster gets.
Of course, it’s impossible not to like Paul Rudd’s Lang, an antihero whose flaws aren’t airbrushed or skimmed over. When we catch up with him, the charming former convict is wearing an ankle bracelet as punishment for his part in the chaos wrought by Captain America: Civil War, and that sentence has shut down his romance with Hope, put pressure on his friend Luis (Michael Peña) and their security firm, and kept him away from his daughter, Cassie (the delightful Abby Ryder Fortson).
Nonetheless, he finds himself drawn back into insectoid trouble, after he experiences a vision of Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) – the long-lost wife of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), last seen by her husband when she ventured into Quantum Realm. That this occurs just as Hank and Hope open up a tunnel to the timey-wimey, trippy void is surely no coincidence – just as it seems unlikely that there’s no connection to the appearance of a mysterious, quantum-entangled soldier (John-Kamen), who starts interfering with Hank’s plans.
The result sets the stage for a string of escapades, each sillier and more ambitious than the last – Ant-Man, thanks to its protagonist’s thieving back-story, has always aligned itself with the heist genre, and the more it embraces that screwball caper potential, the more its stunts entertain. After taking over the helm from Edgar Wright, director Peyton Reed feels happily at home here, playing with size and scale with infectious enthusiasm – a Pez dispenser and a skyscraper are among the objects to get the Alice in Wonderland treatment. Michael Peña’s fast-talking sidekick, meanwhlie, continues to steal every scene he’s in, his absurd knack for recounting past events fitting right in with that playful, comic tone.
And yet from beneath that wit and warmth emerges a surprisingly moving study of children and their parents, as the script (credited to five people) not only finds fresh echoes and depths to Scott’s own paternal grapples, but also gives a welcome amount of screentime to Pfeiffer’s role, giving real weight to the tie between her and Hope. It helps that everyone in this story is concerned with their own survival, rather than the fate of the whole world. That means this doesn’t have the Shakespearean heft of Black Panther, or the ominous scope of Avengers: Infinity War, but there’s a relief to that inconsequentiality, even as events (and the Quantum Realm) do ultimately tie in to the bigger MCU playbook. By holding off that connection for as long as possible, though, this lightweight affair carries notably more human stakes, which makes Lilly’s butt-kicking set pieces all the more impressive. All they need to do now is swap the names in the title around.