Marvel are making a habit of casting Ant-Man as their palate-cleansing hero: the studio puts its fanbase through the wringer with a deadly serious entry, only to follow it up with the more playful adventures of its pint-sized superhero. 2015’s Ant-Man came off the back of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and this year’s sequel is designed to be the breezy yin to Avengers: Infinity War’s gloomily apocalyptic yang. That’s all well and good, but this tactic tends to pigeonhole the Ant-Man series as the entertaining calm after the storm, and ultimately not much else.
Ant-Man and the Wasp picks up two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War and precedes the events of this year’s Infinity War. Our protagonist Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is serving his last days under house arrest following his antics in the hero-on-hero scuffle of 2016. His thus far unimpeachable behaviour is about to take a hit when father-daughter duo Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) show up, needing his help with bringing back the long-lost Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) out of the Quantum Realm, an alternate dimension which Lang visited during the previous instalment. Add to that a pesky tech dealer with plan-thwarting motives (a thankless role for Walton Goggins), the re-emergence of one of Pym’s former academic partners (a glorified cameo by Lawrence Fishburne) and the arrival of a rules-of-physics-bothering Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), and things get messy.
Within that convoluted plot skinny lies Ant-Man and the Wasp’s main weakness: it’s a case of too many cooks. The scriptwriting team, composed of five writers including Paul Rudd, wrestle up far too many superfluous subplots which all run simultaneously. Consequently, none of the narrative strands or characters get satisfyingly fleshed out – when you’ve got Pfeiffer and Douglas on side, that feels somewhat small-minded. The villains are also quite bland this time around, which is doubly grating coming off the back of the franchise highs of Killmonger in Black Panther and the purple groove-chinned megalomaniac with a stone fetish in Infinity War.
But even if it isn’t top tier Marvel like these recent instalments, it has its moments. High-points include a thrilling car chase through the streets of San Francisco that knowingly nods to Bullitt, as well as some show-stealing turns from supporting players Michael Peña and Randall Park, as Scott’s motor-mouthed associate and FBI minder respectively. These elements ensure that the movie remains an easy-going romp that’s just fine. And considering how disappointing recent blockbusters have been (Solo, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Ocean’s 8, Sicario 2), ‘just fine’ feels like something of a win this summer.
Ant-Man and the Wasp | Directed by Peyton Reed (US, 2018), with Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas. Starts July 26.
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