I was in the minority when “Ant-Man” graced our screens back in 2015, considering the film as typical Marvel fare: engaging action, witty dialogue, and smart concepts all mashed together with iffy execution. Most however regarded the film as one of Marvel’s bests, often citing the fact that it was first and foremost a heartwarming comedy that incorporated an innovative “size-change” dynamic. I have to give credit that the first film was bold to place comedy higher than intricate plot points for the sake of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it had nothing to dig for, despite being part of one of the most culturally significant franchises to ever exist. “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” coming off the heels of “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War,” unfortunately has the same feeling.
Before I start expressing how “typical Marvel fare” isn’t anything special, I will say that part of that typicality is that Marvel likes to play with their themes over and over again. They rework old concepts and apply them to new situations – quite admirably. In this film, the villain Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) represents this subversion in her tragic backstory (mild spoilers here). Revealed to the “quantum realm” at a young age, she was given the ability to teleport and disappear randomly, which meant that S.H.I.E.L.D. saw her as a weapon. Yes, the same S.H.I.E.L.D. that assisted the Avengers is painted in this film as a villainous corporation. They allow us to have empathy with Ghost, an ultimately troubled “villain” whose job in this movie is just to hold up our heroes than actually threaten them. I love dynamics like this, and it was a bright spot in a movie where so much is forgettable.
Overall, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is a light break from the darkness of “Infinity War.” It’s not exactly needed, it has little bearing (at this point) on the entire MCU, and its story is based on a rocky plot where Scott/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) joins forces with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope/Wasp (Evangeline Lily) to rescue Janet Pym (Michelle Pfeiffer), who may still be alive, from the quantum realm. It’s a fascinating concept, to say the least, but as with the first “Ant-Man,” the execution is not great. The writing is chock-full of coincidences, situational irony, and technical/scientific talk that we’re just supposed to accept. As problems arise, they’re settled as Douglas or Lily briefly explain them theoretically and then carry them out before we have a chance to work it through our brains. The gimmick gets old fast.
Even the visuals of shrinking and supersizing objects and people fall flat. Aside from Ghost’s abilities to fade in and out of frame, nothing in this film distinguishes it from any other Marvel film. It’s all fun of course, but again, it gets monotonous after a certain point.
We do have another silver lining in Michael Douglas, who is the surprising standout of the cast. While Rudd does his job as the quirky funnyman, Douglas’ manner is flawless in his chemistry with Rudd. My favorite sequence involves a preschool-sized Rudd (after a glitch in the Ant-Man suit) climbing into Douglas’ car to be met with a sarcastic, “Hiya champ, how was school today?” Douglas’ delivery is laugh-out-loud perfect, and he continues the banter for a second longer with equally funny timing. It’s a short moment, but one of the film’s most memorable.
Overall, this sequel does its job with parallels and well-meant team-ups (the Wasp is an important dynamic, too bad she’s pushed behind so much), but it’s nothing more than a Marvel film you’ll forget about until the next time it shows up on TV or in your Netflix queue.