Even though it does stand alone more than almost any recent Marvel film, Ant-Man and the Wasp is dwarfed by the shadow of the MCU (of which it is the 20th film). Between the original Ant-Man and this sequel, the series has been on an unbelievable run of form that has seen it dabble it multiple genres and beautiful new worlds and craft perhaps the two definitive superhero movies in Civil War and Infinity War. As a light, small-stakes palate cleanser it is perfectly fun and enjoyable, but it can’t help but underwhelm after its seven predecessors helped to push the comic book movie to such extravagant new heights.
Taking place two years after Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) took part in Civil War’s airport battle, but before Thanos’s Infinity War snap, the story picks up with Scott under house arrest and FBI supervision whilst his old team of Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) remain on the run. Largely keeping himself to himself for the sake of his family, a vivid vision sparked by his time in the Quantum Realm causes him to call on Hope and Hank, who take it to mean that the original Wasp – Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) – may still be alive in a subatomic state.
Janet is not the Wasp of the title, however. That honour belongs to the newly super-suited Hope, the first woman to get in to an MCU title, and a far more effective warrior and thief than Scott. Not only is her tech better – outfitted with wings and wrist blasters on top of the shrinking abilities – but she has a whole arsenal of martial arts moves that are simply beyond the goofy leading man. Returning director Peyton Reed gets a lot of funny use out of Rudd’s physical comedy capabilities, especially in the early scenes, as Scott has to figure out ways to entertain his young daughter without leaving his yard.
The shrinking tech remains one of Marvel’s most fun and playful bits of impossible science, and the ant’s-eye view of the world is still incredibly novel to explore, as is the super-sizing tech, which makes salt shakers and Pez dispensers into powerful weapons. The effects have taken a small but notable leap forward since last time out, especially in the fascinatingly trippy Quantum Realm and the jaw-dropping de-aging sequences. The work on Pfeiffer in particular is genuinely staggering, the joins impossible to see.
There is a great central set-piece involving shrinking cars zooming around San Francisco, evoking, in the best way, a miniature Bullitt. But, mostly, the action and plot beats are less entertaining than just watching Rudd (who also gets a writer’s credit) hang out with his makeshift family – Bobby Cannavale making a huge impact with what amounts to about two minutes of screen time – and ex-con friends. Walton Goggins is having a blast as a classic smarmy Goggins villain (arms dealer Sonny Burch), but Laurence FIshburne is largely wasted as a shady former partner of Hank’s, and Hannah John-Kamen’s villainous Ghost is too earnest for the silly Ant-Man world.
Releasing after Infinity War, the risk for Ant-Man and the Wasp was that it would feel like merely a comical end-credits scene stretched out over two hours. Whilst that isn’t really the case, it doesn’t feel like essential superhero watching like so many recent Marvel movies have, and is it in fact its own wider-world-acknowledging credits scene that is the most effective. As two hours of summer escapism, you could certainly do a lot worse, but as for MCU entertainment, you could also certainly do better, especially as Infinity War hits home release.