After “borrowing” a size-changing suit to help an on-the-run Captain America, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a former thief/divorced dad who dabbles in heroics as Ant-Man, is confined to house arrest. He is whisked away from under the noses of the FBI by the suit’s inventor, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and Pym’s daughter/Scott’s ex-girlfriend, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). They believe that Hope’s presumed-dead mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) may still be alive, and they aim to construct a machine to retrieve her from the quantum realm. This plan requires them to deal with unscrupulous black market technology dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), and it also puts them in the crosshairs of Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a molecularly unstable masked assassin who keeps phasing in and out of tangibility. Running low on options, Pym is forced to turn to an old friend-turned-rival (Laurence Fishburne) who may still harbor a grudge.
Positioned as a light-hearted breather after the hype, grandeur, and gravitas of Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp has “minor film” written all over it. After all, it’s a (mostly) earthbound tale devoid of megalomaniacal threats to the cosmos, and its lead characters, while likable, don’t rate a ton of name recognition. Given these relatively low expectations, Ant-Man and the Wasp is better than it needs to be even if it never fully escapes its “minor” status.
As with the first Ant-Man film, there is an emphasis on fun. Returning director Peyton Reed has crafted a fluid film full of both visual humor (Pym’s case of Hot Wheels cars becomes a portable garage thanks to his size-changing technology) and competently choreographed action. The script (courtesy of Rudd, Chris McKenna, and others) is high on humor, mocking Lang’s loser status and leaving plenty of room for banter. One running joke sees Lang’s ex-con pals argue with Burch’s syringe-wielding associate over whether the contents of said syringe constitute a truth serum.
As with the first film, Ant-Man and the Wasp boasts both winning performances and paper-thin characterization. Rudd continues to project affability as a devoted father and quasi-inept hero, and Douglas’s Pym remains prickly. Michael Pena is back too as Lang’s motor-mouthed business partner Luis, a character that walks a thin line between hilarious scene-stealer and annoying and insensitive caricature. Among the new additions, Kamen is a definite upgrade from the previous film’s derivative Yellowjacket. Ghost is a more complex character with more sympathetic motivations. Fishburne and the underrated Pfeiffer are welcome presences, but their roles barely transcend cameos.
Despite being given more prominent billing and more screen time, however, Lilly’s character is arguably mishandled. We get to see more of the Wasp in action (where her breathless combat competence contrasts, rather heavy-handedly, with Lang’s bumbling), but outside of the suit, Hope misses her mother, is vaguely miffed at Scott, and…that’s about it. Rather than actually develop a female superhero, this film seems content to simply give the appearance of having done so.
Though it does offer a few hints as to Marvel’s post-Infinity Wars plans, Ant-Man and the Wasp is best viewed as a self-contained experience. Through that lens, it is a perfect summer popcorn flick: humorous, heartfelt, and forgivably lightweight.