While Avengers: Infinity War made it clear that both Ant-Man and Hawkeye made deals following the events of Civil War so that they could stay out of jail and with their families, there was clearly a lot more to that story. But after a lukewarm first outing, could a second Ant-Man film give fans a much needed snapture reprieve of good fun?
You know what? Yeah. Yeah, it could.
Make no mistake Ant-Man and the Wasp is better than its predecessor. It’s more unique, better paced, and funnier than the previous Ant-Man film. (This might have something to do with the fact that Chris McKenna is listed as a co-writer on the screenplay; you might remember him from some of your favorite episodes of Community, The Lego Batman Movie, and other MCU favorites Spider-Man: Homecoming and Captain America: Winter Soldier.) The plot is thankfully not a rehash of a previous MCU story this time, and instead puts in a lot of work building up the importance of family and trust… and also how much fun they can possibly have messing around with scale in action sequences. And it blends in beautifully with everything the MCU has worked so hard to set up—in fact, it may fit better than the majority of Marvel’s latest movies.
[Spoilers for Ant-Man and the Wasp.]
We find out that due to Scott Lang’s actions in Captain America: Civil War, he has been under house arrest for two years, a sentence that is nearly over. More importantly, Hank and Hope are counted equally culpable for his actions because he was using their tech, so they’ve been on the run ever since. In that time, the father-daughter science team have been developing a tunnel to the quantum realm in the hopes of being able to find Hope’s mother, Janet van Dyne (played the ever-luminous Michelle Pfeiffer). When they open the doorway to that realm briefly, Scott has a dream where he is Janet, and ends up contacting Hank with a burner phone to find out if that’s important. Of course, it is, and he’s kidnapped by his former cohort while an embiggened ant wears his ankle monitor and hangs out in his house—where Scott has the money for that kinda real estate in San Francisco is anyone’s guess.
The relationships that run through this film are multi-generational and complex: Scott’s family is behind him one-hundred percent now, his ex-wife and her husband acting as group-hugging anchors as he tries to rebuild his life; his former-thieving crew still work with him, building a security business when they’re not getting caught up in Scott’s superhero troubles; Scott’s daughter Cassie is still that fizzy ball of light, fun and funny and her dad’s internal compass. On the Pym side, Hank is trying to be a better dad to Hope, trusting her to get things done for a change; Hope’s thoughts linger on her mother and the possibility of being reunited with someone she has missed for thirty years; they run into Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne being his usual glorious self), an old colleague of Hank’s who understandably does not like the guy; Bill takes care of Ava Starr, the phasing “Ghost” of the film, whose father also used to work with Hank.
Hank Pym is happily not cut any slack in this film when it comes to his past failings. He’s an ego-maniacal jerk at the best of times, with none of the charisma or humor of Tony Stark to make him bearable. Hank repeatedly ruined the careers of other bright scientists for the sake of his own self-aggrandizement, and this film forces him to look back on that and see what he’s left in his wake. It’s a pointed jab that the central “villain” of the film isn’t really a villain at all; Ava’s painful phasing condition is the byproduct of Hank’s megalomania, his inability to work with or respect others. (Of course Ava’s father bears equal responsibility here, but his mistakes started with Hank’s cruel dismissal.) She is not to blame for wanting to live, or to blame for the things that a Hydra-controlled SHIELD made her do, and Bill is not to blame for wanting to help her. What’s more, Ava knows that she’s going too far in trying to steal Hank’s lab, and she makes real mistakes in trying to cure her condition, but she’s not punished for that. She receives the help and love that she always deserved, in the form of a cure and Bill’s continued guardianship. The MCU should bring them back for future jaunts.
The story of Ant-Man and the Wasp is ultimately just a search and rescue operation, with a little magical misdirection and action thrown in. It is a story about finding Janet van Dyne, and a story about Scott trying to find balance and be there for the two families he already has (his daughter and ex-wife, his friends) and the new family he’s chosen to be a part of (Hank and Hope). The action sequences are delightful all the way around, and the film does play with scale gorgeously throughout. The true villains are camp and ultimately unimportant; they do their jobs and then diminish when the movie needs them to go away, which gives the film just enough antagonism to be interesting, but never loses sight of the emotional core it’s building. The special effects as they pertain to the quantum realm are fascinating particularly now that we’ve got more context through Doctor Strange. The quantum realm itself bears a lot of resemblance to what Stephen Strange’s powers give him access to. This could have bearing going forward, even in the next Avengers film.
Still, for all that Ant-Man and the Wasp does better with all its moving parts than its predecessor, it still can’t fix the overall problems with the MCU, which speaks to a larger and more pressing issues. Wasp is finally given her due in this film, and Evangeline Lilly exudes competence, heart, and humor with every second she’s on screen. It’s wonderful to finally see her take center stage as she should have in the first film. But halfway through the film, she has a talk with Scott about his sojourn to Germany, about him fighting alongside Captain America without ever telling them he was going. He thinks to ask her if she would have gone with him if he’d only asked. And she tells them that now they’ll never know… but if she’d been with him, he never would have gotten caught at all. It’s a pointed dig that nonetheless does nothing to erase the fact that Wasp was never going to be in Civil War and was likely never considered for it at all because she’s not Ant-Man. And the studio has its priorities.
These issues could be resolved going forward… but they aren’t going to be any time soon. The film’s emotional climax speaks to that error—Janet is retrieved from the quantum realm, and she cures Ava, and she holds her daughter in her arms. Janet van Dyne: brilliant mind, unmatchable hero, good friend. She is everything that Hank Pym is not, and now she’s back, and she and her daughter deserve their own story. At the very least, they deserve a central spot in these upcoming adventures. But then the tag scene happens, and Scott is abandoned in the quantum realm as he’s gathering energy because the whole Pym/van Dyne family “dust” when Thanos snaps his fingers. See, it’s all well and good to know that both Wasps deserve to be major heroes in these narratives, but the upcoming film prioritizes Scott’s involvement. We know he’s going to be in the next Avengers film, but Janet and Hope are not. And sure, we need to see the original crew of the Avengers off before the baton gets past and so on… but continually looping Scott Lang into these stories while you sideline Hope and Janet doesn’t mean you’re progressing. It’s just Marvel Studios hanging the lantern on their own shortcomings.
All of that aside, Ant-Man and the Wasp is an incredibly fun film that remembers how weird its sandbox is. If more films like this are coming from this particular corner of the Marvel universe, sign me up. Just remember to push that corner of the sandbox out a little further, so we can see this lovable crew elsewhere under the gain MCU tentpole.
Emily Asher-Perrin also feels the need to point out that this mean Hawkeye has also been under house arrest for two years, which means he must have renovated that entire damn farmhouse by now. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.