The original Ant-Man was a surprise hit: despite the worrisome replacement of original director Edgar Wright, the film was released as a well-rounded superhero flick, with the intermittent brilliance reminiscent of Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy bridged by the competent in-between sections that kept the film rolling. Now Peyton Reed has full control of the film, and he shows his full confidence in Ant-Man and The Wasp. Ant-Man is no longer a small-time hero in the shadow of the Avengers.
While many would dismiss Ant-Man and the Wasp as yet another Marvel flick, unabashedly exhausting the same formula for the sake of commercial gain, it is quite different from most of Marvel films, or from the superhero genre in general. While other superheroes fights are always on two-fronts, the main villain and themselves (the two are often conjoined and each are internalized/externalized, as seen in the overused Marvel cliche that pits villains with same powers as the hero against the hero, like Iron Monger, Abomination, Red Skull, Kilmonger, Kaecilius, etc.), neither Scott Lang nor Hope Van Dyne are ever too concerned about the responsibility and the identity crisis of being a superhero. They just want to accomplish one thing–finding Hope’s mother–and everything else, including the conflict with the antagonists, becomes more or less a secondary matter that just gets in the way.
This means that the two titular superheroes rarely have moments for inner conflicts or development–in fact, Scott Lang’s character and his superhero ego was formed and set-in-stone in the first half of Ant-Man, while Hope Van Dyne’s left no space for any true further development after her reconciliation with her father in the first film. Instead of tackling the more serious psychological themes that are now the staple of the genre, Ant-Man and The Wasp sets a very clear narrative goal and never strays away from it; there may be time-limits, third (and fourth, maybe fifth) parties of differing interests, and other minor obstacles that may seem banal for a superhero, but the film’s narrative does not venture out to claim a bigger philosophical question it clearly cannot answer.
Instead of tackling more serious psychological themes that are now the staple of the superhero genre, Ant-Man and The Wasp sets out a very clear narrative goal right from the start and never strays away from it.
This lack of character development and the equally-lacking thematic flair may bring the film a sense of lightness, but that lightness isn’t necessarily unbearable. Ant-Man set out to be a fun flick that did not take itself too seriously, and the sequel takes even more light-hearted tone; even the darker plot points are supplemented by a comic direction that keeps the pace going. Compared to the original, which sacrificed pacing consistency for the sake of some family drama, Ant-Man and The Wasp understands that it was the light-heartedness that earned its predecessor critical praise.
Every conflict stems from differing interests of each character, and it’s that clash and the chemistry between them drives the film. If the first Ant-Man looked to the heist genre for its narrative mold, Ant-Man and The Wasp opts for a more dynamic plot where many characters pursue a single object. Said object changes hands multiple times throughout the film and as it does, so does the point of action. Just as the titular heroes change their size at will, the narrative bounces around fast enough not so we won’t notice its relative shallowness.
The film is not necessarily shallow, however; it is more light-hearted than anything. Not all the jokes in the film are good; some are definitely overbearing, but they are usually presented in such quick succession that they rarely overstay their welcome. Everyone’s favourite comedy scene from the first film returns, but with enough changes to feel fresh.
One admirable thing about the film’s humour, however, is that it has slipped into everything. Comical points in the film are not comic relief, but rather a style the film uses to drive the characters’ interests, punctuate plot points, and offer a resolution. While the typical Marvel-ness sanitizes any extreme quirkiness it might have had (its certainly not at the level of Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok), the film begins and ends as a comedy.
Much of the humour is attributed to the collaboration between the cast, the direction, and the script. Michael Peña’s Luis once again shines, Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lily show even more developed chemistry, and Michael Douglas is still the best use of a well-known actor in Marvel supporting role. Because of the lack of any character development, characters are defined by how they interact with each other, and Reed directs his cast with impressive confidence to achieve this.
The villains are, on the other hand, rather a letdown. Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost may have been an interesting antagonist on paper, but because of the film’s lack of characterization, her backstory is rather a cliche. She also is the only character in the film who is not funny. Walton Goggins’ character, on the other hand, is designed to be cliched and the film ultimately wastes the talent Goggins has. Thankfully, however, Uzman (played by Divian Ladwa) steals almost every scene he is in.
The action is where Ant-Man and The Wasp‘s comic potential truly shines. While the first film had notable action sequences that were designed to be funny, Ant-Man and The Wasp takes even more liberty in incorporating comedy into the action. Much of it was already shown in the marketing materials, but the film strings them together in succession to produce some of the most inventive set pieces in recent memory.
If there is one glaring flaw that even the film’s comic style cannot hide, it’s the scientific aspects. The film portrays quantum physics as some sort of magic, similar to Doctor Strange‘s portrayal of the multiverse. It seems to follow no coherent laws other than it is incomprehensible. It results in a deux ex machina ending that is both predictable and unsatisfying. But this is a minor flaw and, in the end, an understandable one considering the film’s identity as a comedy film.
For those wishing for a more traditional superhero experience with considerable moral dilemmas and inner conflicts, Ant-Man and The Wasp might be too light of an affair. The same is true for anyone who exhausted by the Marvel style of humour, action, and an ever-expanding universe. However, Ant-Man and The Wasp is a fun time. It may not be entirely memorable, but it’s certainly enjoyable.
p.s. Those wishing for the film to have a connection to Infinity War have to wait until the credits roll, as both end credits scenes are tied to the events of Infinity War. The film is mostly independent, other than the starting point, which assumes you have watched Civil War.