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Ant-Man (2015) was a delight, in part, because it was frivolous. It starred a comedic actor we knew would not come to be defined by the superheroic role from the get-go, and it sonically took on the form of a small-scale romp rather than a lumbering action epic. Grandeur was replaced with self-effacement. It was strange to think that it was canonical — officially the 12th feature making up the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
That lightheartedness was refreshing in the wake of the features preceding it, which were, comparatively, becoming progressively prodigious and high stakes. Ant-Man was formulaic, maybe, but Peyton Reed’s directing was canny — and the ensemble comprising the cast was effortlessly charming. It was a necessary breather from all the pomp that so often colored Marvel’s different facets.
Little has changed in 2018. Akin to how 2015’s Ant-Man acted as a cinematic water break to mollify the pains inflicted by the line drill that was Avengers: Age of Ultron, its sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, is the herbal tea meant to sooth the strains administered by Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. It is as if its goal were to remind us that superhero movies can be throwaway and lightweight, not always so steeped in urgency. Because I’ve long preferred Marvel at its most farcical, both Ant-Man and its follow-up have become something of a collective idyll. Ant-Man and the Wasp, which was released earlier this month, is satisfactorily about as good as its forebear, just with a few more inventive size-dependent action set pieces.
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It takes place shortly after the events depicted in the first Ant-Man movie. That film’s primary protagonist, the erstwhile petty criminal Scott (Paul Rudd), has been placed under house arrest after participating in the supers vs. supers battle in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. His affiliates, the greyed scientist Walter (Michael Douglas) and his no-nonsense daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), are in hiding as a result, and have since cut ties with him.
But in Ant-Man and the Wasp, which begins around the time Scott’s two-year sentence is coming to an end, this feud is going to have to be put on hold. Scott has begun having visions revolving around Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), Walter’s wife who has been trapped in the microscopic quantum realm for more than 30 years. (She, who moonlighted as the Wasp decades ago, sacrificed herself to neutralize an explosive device during a covert mission.)
Scott would like to pass his visions off as dreams. But they’re so vivid that he feels the need to tell his ex-associates, who themselves have always believed Janet might be alive but have never quite had the requisite evidence to back themselves up.
Reluctantly, Walter and Hope let Scott back into their lives, and clandestinely help him leave his house to assist them in Janet’s rescue. Which, for all intents and purposes, seems to be in its final stages. In the period since we saw them last, Walter and Hope have been working on an electronic tunnel that will allow them to safely enter and exit the subatomic realm. The project is nearing completion.
Obstacles, naturally, arise. Thus far, Walter and Hope have been working with Sonny (Walton Groggins), a black market dealer, to get the parts necessary to build their hulking contraption. But partway through the movie, he decides to double-cross them, leading to a quasi-cat-and-mouse chase that lasts for the rest of the film.
Additionally causing trouble is a stealthy young woman named Ava (Hannah John-Kamen), who was left molecularly unstable after an accident and will do anything she can to harness Walter and Hope’s technology to cure herself. Then, there is, simply, the FBI, who suspects that Scott is not abiding by his house arrest mandates and are prone to approaching his home at even the slightest out-of-the-ordinary movement.
Some criticism has been directed at Ant-Man and the Wasp’s patchwork of semi-villains and plots. Ernesto Diezmartinez, of Ciné Vertigo, has lamented the lack of a tried-and-true villain, for instance, and Matthew Rozsa, of Salon, has pointed outthat the movie, while followable, was essentially set up to be riddled with plot holes. He found it further maddening that the Ava subplot could have easily been solved had the characters taken the time to have a conversation about how to use the tunnel in a symbiotic way.
I’m apt to agree. Yet I was neither turned off by Ant-Man and the Wasp’s busyness nor its deficiency of an outright antagonist. The storyline’s overelaborate structure is complementary toward the bedlam of the action sequences, which are invigoratingly unpredictable. (Scott, along with Hope, who now acts as the more-proficient Wasp, can either be as small as a Hot Wheel or as mammoth as a titanosaur.) And the paucity of a Thanos-style villain only maintains the reality that part of this movie’s appeal is how small-scale (for Marvel), and how low-stakes, it is. Plus, any movie that so adeptly uses the underrated Michael Peña, whose comedic timing is matchless, is certainly worth something, too.
Ant-Man and the Wasp, like its antecedent, is purely accessorial — the Marvel Cinematic Universe is neither improved nor worsened for hosting it. But in the scope of the generally operatic superhero genre, something so breezy is easy to value. Especially after sitting through the post-credits sequence — for once a necessary component — I can’t wait to see what Reed and co. come up with next.