Director Peyton Reed demonstrates a capable grasp on this particular fiefdom of the MCU after having directed the first Ant-Man. This is not a serious or weighty corner of the world. The stakes for Lang are preventing Woo from catching him breaking curfew, putting this superhero actioner on par with a teen romp. Burch, in the vein of Sam Rockwell’s hapless arms dealer from Iron Man 2, is not a credible threat, and while John-Kamen plays her character with a raw desperation, she is a notable outlier in a film that doesn’t have the time nor inclination for pathos. Ant-Man and the Wasp wants to be a fun chase flick with none of the broader metaphors or allusions of other MCU films, an earthbound Guardians of the Galaxy, only more frivolous. Reed and his team succeeds by aiming low.
There is certainly a place for disposable fun, and Ant-Man and the Wasp’s inventive action and occasional laugh line slot in well enough. With Pym’s shrinking technology making size relative, the film plays with that notion by making the MacGuffin Pym’s office building, shrunk small enough to stuff into an overhead airplane bin. Car chases are enlivened by vehicles growing and shrinking at will, while embiggening makes everything a weapon. Rudd and Lilly are credibly physically differentiated in their fighting styles, reinforcing how much of a pathetic approximation he is to her and making the viewer wonder why she wasn’t the focus of the first movie. On the comedy front, the MCU’s laughs are often of the Tony Stark side-eyed variety, but these characters lack his god-like detachment, so a new flavor must be created. The five credited writers achieve this by earning laughs from how genuine everyone is. Woo is genuinely impressed with close-up magic. Breakout character Luis (Michael Pena) is genuinely a charismatic storyteller. A positive trend for Marvel films is their increased humor quotient, and Ant-Man and the Wasp keep it going, though the Infinity War outlier might mean the end of this particular improvement.
A film so plainly invested in only the thrills and the yuks is going to run into trouble when either or both hit the brakes, and Reed will often bring Ant-Man and the Wasp to a crawl. There’s a veneer of engineering and science around Pym, and the script makes the effort to reinforce this with scenes of jargon and techno-babble, to a negative effect. It’s also not occurred to Reed or the writers that Lang and Hope are a bad romantic match. Black Widow and Captain America are platonic work friends, why can’t Ant-Man and the Wasp be like them? The MCU has rarely, if ever, crafted a compelling relationship, and the track record is not improved here.
The elephant in the room is the events of Infinity War, which hang over Ant-Man and the Wasp like a toxic cloud. It’s not Reed’s fault that the release schedule worked out like it did. If this preceded Infinity War, one could imagine feeling warmer towards it, but Marvel wants credit for tying all these films together and translating episodic storytelling onto the big screen, but the episode order is out of whack. Ant-Man and the Wasp feels like the Scott Lang to Infinity War’s Hope van Dyne, a back-burner afterthought that isn’t what anyone’s really focused on. C+