Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) probably flew past the Fandor office in their eponymous film, which might be the most noteworthy detail of the San Francisco-set superhero sequel. Marvel’s latest offering buzzes along at the prescribed pace, with a joke here, a brawl there, and a Stan Lee cameo that’ll likely elicit a chuckle, even if you’ll struggle to remember it once the credits roll.
It isn’t much of a complaint to say that Ant-Man and the Wasp’s defining characteristic is its innocuousness. Watching it is a harmless way to spend fifteen dollars, but Peyton Reed’s journeyman sequel lacks the searing political dialectics of Black Panther, the visual splendor of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and most egregiously, anything resembling the Apollonian sublimity of Chris Evans’ Avengers: Infinity War-era beard. It’s all just kind of fine.
But Ant-Man and the Wasp—opening two months after the doom and gloom of Infinity War—never needed to be more than a lighthearted romp. Here to assuage the trauma of watching half of the MCU crumble to ash, is a CGI ant going full Ringo on drum kit. And of course, Michael Peña returns as Luis, whose hilarious, rapid-fire anecdotes remain highlights of the Ant-Man series. Admittedly, there isn’t much on this film’s agenda—shrink Paul Rudd, make him big, rinse, and repeat—and it dutifully ticks off every box. That is, except for the most important one.
Michelle Pfeiffer makes her return to superhero cinema in this film, playing Janet van Dyne, the original iteration of the Wasp. She became lost in the microscopic quantum realm, and it’s up to her husband Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, whose alleged sexual harassment makes him a bit hard to watch) and their daughter, Hope (Lilly), to rescue her.
This premise smartly sets up a promising mother-daughter dynamic, but it’s one that’s largely left unexplored. In fact, Pfeiffer’s talent is all but squandered, and Janet van Dyne is little more than a MacGuffin. This might be excusable if Evangeline Lilly had more to do. Thankfully, she at least suits up this time around, even if she has to share a screen with Rudd’s Ant-Man.
She and Rudd have roughly the same amount of screen time, but one woman’s quest to find her long-lost mother carries much more dramatic heft than Rudd’s arc as an ex-con, who’s under house arrest for aiding a renegade band of superheroes in Captain America: Civil War. Hope Pym is as formidable a fighter as Black Panther, and her genius is on par with any of Marvel’s “science bros,” but sure, let’s watch Ant-Man perform card tricks. As a result, the Wasp is once again shortchanged, and Ant-Man feels like deadweight for much of the film—he’s a B-plot who is frustratingly given top billing.
In a similar vein, Walton Goggins plays ninth fiddle to the rest of the cast, portraying a black-market arms dealer, and popping in right when we’re about to forget that he’s in the movie. Should Goggins’ villains have been cut to make room for characters we care about? Yes. Will Marvel stop recycling its Requisite Secondary Villain archetype? No. Save for a few standouts, has there ever been a Marvel movie who’s story was told “economically”?
Fortunately, the film’s primary villain fares better—the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) was the victim of a scientific experiment gone haywire, the result of which granted her the power to phase through solid matter. But her powers pose a threat to her life, and she enlists the help of scientist Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne) to help her find a cure. She and Foster were both, to some degree, wronged by Hank Pym, rendering them sympathetic antagonists, rather than speechifying world-conquerors.
To the film’s credit, it avoids pitting Ghost against Ant-Man and the Wasp in a CGI deathmatch, opting instead for an ending in which empathy wins the day. Ant-Man and the Wasp and its 2015 predecessor are merely small-scale tangents in the MCU, but they both have hearts of gold. And despite this critic’s gripes, the film never loses sight of its bouncy tone—this series is the class clown of the MCU, and it competently fills those shoes.
Ultimately, as with most other Marvel outings, Ant-Man and the Wasp ends with a pair of taglines, one of which positions Ant-Man to be a key player in the fourth Avengers film. Certain threads are left untied, and the film leaves its most puzzling question unanswered: How does the jobless Ant-Man afford to live in San Francisco?