“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is that kind of chapter in the Marvel cinematic universe that buckles underneath the excellence of the previous entree, it’s like reading a great book that has a fantastic chapter followed up by one that is fun, satisfying, but not near as superb as the one you just read.
Once again directed by Peyton Reed, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is a film that feels a bit mediocre in more ways than one, but not in a bad way. The film, written by a team of five writers, takes place about two years removed from the events of the Russo Brothers’ “Captain America: Civil War.” Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) made a plea deal to take part in a two year sentenced house arrest, followed up by three years of probation, and he’s nearing his last three days of sentencing until he finds himself having nightmares from his time in the subatomic realm, but these dreams feel too real.
He reaches out to Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to explain this to him, hours later, he is kidnapped by Hope (Evangeline Lilly), because this father and daughter duo have been building a machine to take them to the quantum realm, believing that Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer; Hank’s wife and Hope’s mom) may still be alive.
It’s a simple mission that needs the assistance of Scott’s (Paul Rudd) hypothetical quantum entanglement with her from the quantum realm, but their plan’s soon get foiled by this white hooded and fissuring figure known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). She’s a woman who’s suffered the sins of Hank’s (Michael Douglas) past, being a product of a father’s failed experiment that has led to her becoming a molecularly faltered woman that continuously glitches between matter, making her someone that can walk through any wall and avoid any attack. This condition also leaves her in constant pain though, forcing her to reach out for help, something that also comes from Hank’s (Michael Douglas) past mistakes.
You would think the film would build an emotional lesson around that, but instead, the story revolves around a multitude of amusing subplots and a sappy-ish emotional heft between Scott (Paul Rudd) and his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). It picks up off that father-daughter dynamic we saw in “Ant-Man,” something we don’t see in any of the other Marvel movies, and begins to zero in on the flawed heroism of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Dealing with this revolving door of consequences for his actions, tearing him between the two worlds of fatherhood and vigilantism.
He never seems to be able to the right thing without alienating his family or his friends or the woman he wants to partner with on these adventures as Ant-Man. He’s continuously reminded of these shortcomings, staying out of trouble to keep his daughter in his life, but exiling his past life and friends in exchange. It’s a complex moral dilemma, one that we rarely see in film’s apart of the MCU, but the film almost seems to overlook the enticeable potential of the emotion surrounding this internal character dynamic, choosing to satisfy audiences without providing something worth remembering.
The film does subvert the macho-man mentality of superhero movies though, allowing the teamwork between these two heroes to become a reliable weapon. Never allowing that one-person show cliche to take hold, the "Ant-Man and the Wasp" are a team that relies on teamwork, something surprisingly rare to see in comic book filmography, almost as unusual as the amount of significance giving to the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly).
Spending a lot of time developing, focusing, and centralizing the story and the action around Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Reed exhumes as much creative choreography he can from the wings of the Wasp, disappearing and reappearing with fury and a whole lot of female badassery. We rarely get to see these displays of female super-strength, with them sporadically occurring in films like "Iron Man 2" and "Avengers." Luckily, "Thor; Ragnarok" and "Black Panther" have embraced that female empowerment, carrying it over into newer films such as this one.
She almost steals the show with her displays of action, but the gang of assisting comedic characters makes that a hard role to earn, as the group of three ex-cons, has founded their own security company, ironically trademarked as “X-Con.” These neurotic characters share a fair amount of screenplay, providing as much comedic relief as they can, not that the screenplay is dourly in need of more humor. Nonetheless, the security team of Kurt (David Dastmalchian), Dave (T.I.), and Luis (Michael Peña) provide the films funniest moments with Peña being responsible for more than the other two goofballs, as predicted.
The gang of characters surrounding our triplet of heroes doesn't stop there, you can also find the well-meaning ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer), the affable husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), the adorably innocent Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), a smug weapons dealer with a wicked southern accent depicted by Walton Goggins, of course, and there’s also the clueless FBI agent, Woo (Randall Park), who is amusingly jealous of the charisma displayed by Scott (Paul Rudd). All of these characters assist in formulating a group of subplots that struggle to reside together coherently, but they never become something distracting or worth denouncing, more of a run of the mill kind of scenario.
The same could be said for Dante Spinotti’s cinematographer which, unlike the previous film, seems to have no individuality. Never standing out or making its voice heard, instead, it blends into the foreground, becoming reliant on well-handled set pieces and a vast amount of size gags, which seem to always get a chuckle or two out of me.
Reed has a lot of great moments in his direction of the film, specifically in his helming of the movies emotional subtext, something that if focused more upon, could have made the film far better than your above mediocre superhero film. It relies on that relief of enjoyment you desire after seeing a mature and darkened MCU film such as "Avengers: Infinity War." “Ant-Man and the Wasp” struggles with that bad timing more than it should. Not to mention, a complete lack of emotional heft that, like “Thor: Ragnarok,” is set up to be paid off near the film’s finale, but these moments are shrunk down to size before they become the big hero that the movie so desperately needs.
If you consider the MCU as a long-running, feature-length, television series that premieres at the movie theater, then you can think of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” as that follow up episode to the mid-season finale. Attempting to pull everyone back into the story, calming the waters so that you can return to your regularly scheduled programming until the Mad Titan makes his next appearance. There’s nothing obscene or egregiously wrong with “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” it’s following up a cinematic event of epic portions, providing a small but effective entree into this cinematic universe of superheroes, it's hard to blame the underdog for not outperforming the favorite.