Film Review: “Ant-Man and the Wasp” Doubles Down on Charm and Wit

Film poster: “Ant-Man and the Wasp”

Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed, 2018) 3 out of 4 stars.

For anyone who liked the original Ant-Man, back in 2015, and was worried that its sequel might not deliver its predecessor’s comedic goods, have no fear: Ant-Man and the Wasp, also directed by Peyton Reed (Yes Man), if muddier than the first film, still entertains with similarly droll grace. The original lead cast returns, including Paul Rudd (This Is 40), Evangeline Lilly (Real Steel), Michael Douglas (And So It Goes) and, most joyfully, Michael Peña (War on Everyone), among others, with a few welcome additions, including Randall Park (Dismissed), Hannah John-Kamen (Dutch on Syfy’s Killjoys), Laurence Fishburne (Last Flag Flying) and the seemingly ageless Michelle Pfeiffer (Mother!). Together a dynamic and witty bunch they make, and if the script (by multiple writers, as was Ant-Man‘s) does not quite achieve the delirious heights of three years ago, it’s still great fun, and a welcome reprieve from the dreariness of Marvel’s last Avengers film.

For yes, we are very much located at the heart of the Marvelverse here. As the movie begins, Scott Lang (aka, “Ant-Man,” played by Rudd) is under house arrest, having broken certain laws against superhero activities in the 2016 Captain America: Civil War. His mentor, Dr. Hank Pym (Douglas), and Pym’s daughter Hope (Lilly), are on the run, the technology they control (source of Scott’s amazing shrinking suit) also deemed illegal. Since I mostly forget the details of all these films shortly after watching them, I’m a little fuzzy on why what Scott and company did was wrong, but it makes for a convenient obstacle now, as Scott must must elude FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Park) once he gets a hankering for action. Woo is not the only one after him and the Pyms, however.

After a dream in which Scott experiences a vision of Pym’s lost wife Janet (Pfeiffer) who – as we are reminded in an opening prologue – was lost long ago in the “quantum realm” (that’s the super-micro-sub-atomic level of existence where Scott almost disappeared last time), he calls his old comrades on a hidden phone, and soon is off again, ankle bracelet conveniently left behind. Before long, he and Hope – who now wears the “Wasp” suit that her mother once used – are fighting side by side, pursued by a mysterious new character whom they call “Ghost” (John-Kamen) since she phases in and out of multiple dimensions. Her history, it turns out, is inextricably linked to theirs, and while Hope, Pym and Scott search for the missing Janet, who may be alive, Ghost proves a more formidable adversary than the FBI.

Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) in “Ant-Man and the Wasp” ©Marvel Studios

Meanwhile, Scott – a divorced father of an adorable little girl – struggles to remain free of legal troubles while he helps his pal Luis (Peña), along with their two other ex-con partners, start up a security business. As he did in Ant-Man, Peña provides the major comic relief, complete with his hilarious storytelling skills, in a movie that is already pretty funny even without his contributions. Rudd, Lilly and Douglas continue to have delightful rapport, and Park and Pfeiffer – and others – bring a charming light touch to their own roles. Only Kamen-Jones and Fishburne, as an erstwhile colleague of Pym’s, remain serious, but their characters demand it, so it works. In general, the actors and their delivery of smart dialogue – on top of some excellent action sequences – are the main reasons to watch the film.

Unfortunately, as with many science-fiction and/or comic-book films, the exposition (i.e., mumbo-jumbo, or gobbledygook) occasionally undoes the joy of the proceedings. Whether it’s the excessive use of the word “quantum” as a qualifier for any unexplainable phenomenon within the plot, or the endless backstory we eventually hear from Ghost, sometimes the writers don’t know when to quit. Though “less is more” is by now a tired adage, here it would definitely apply. Still, beyond those failings of script, Ant-Man and the Wasp is in many ways a lovely, successful work of commercial Hollywood cinema that does what it sets out to do, advancing the protagonist’s narrative while keeping the audience pleasantly diverted. I already can’t wait for the next one!

Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly, without suits, in “Ant-Man and the Wasp” ©Marvel Studios

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About chrisreedfilm

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is lead film critic at hammertonail.com, an online magazine devoted to independent cinema; a regular film critic here at filmfestivaltoday.com; the host of Dragon Digital Media’s award-winning "Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed"; a film commentator for the "Roughly Speaking” podcast with Dan Rodricks at "The Baltimore Sun"; and the author of "Film Editing: Theory and Practice." In addition, he is one of three co-creators, along with Summre Garber of Slamdance and Bart Weiss of Dallas VideoFest, of "The Fog of Truth" (fogoftruth.com) – available on iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher – a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.
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