Does size really matter? Turn to Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) for a nerdily detailed overview of the labyrinthine sciences of the Quantum Realm, an nth dimension of sorts, in which his wife, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), gets stranded for decades after a mission that required going subatomic. The answer, ultimately and understandably to Pym, would be yes. Asking Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a crook turned full-fledged Avenger, yields an ear-to-ear grin, making it known he knows how innuendos work—“65 feet,” he chortles at one point in the film—and only eventually concludes the affirmative. The film itself, Ant-Man and the Wasp, seems resolutely unfettered by either answer, molding a different kind of superhero film unmoored from the grandness and gravity of comic book epics.
That’s a double-edged sword, and Peyton Reed, the film’s director, seems assuredly aware. The film is set before Thanos’ pandemic finger-snapping in Avengers: Infinity War, a fact that affords the film its cheeky, sprightly design. It goes over the s.o.p. Marvel swipe right and good, and with it crafts a perfectly watchable superhero movie that, impressively, is enlivened almost purely by charisma. Superhero stories sans superheroic stakes rarely work, but here, Reed offers an alternative that eschews the imposed requisites of its sub-genre and crafts a variation that’s hard not to feel okay with.
If the film feels like it lacks something, it’s because it does. There are no real villains here, only characters pushed to do villainous deeds. Not especially Ghost (played exquisitely by Hannah John-Kamen), a scientific casualty impervious to the laws of physics. She can phase through walls, no problem, and any form of matter, for that—excuse me while I dramatically cough—matter. She is, however, on life support. A radio-kiosk lends her temporal lifeforce, for when she phases, she literally dies a little. She reckons the force of the Quantum Realm can rescind her all-but-guaranteed reaping, so out she glitches to beat Dr. Pym and co. to a possibly alive Janet, come what may. Ghost’s villainy here makes sense. She needs the Realm’s force to survive.
Though there’s nary a moment where we’re not reminded that Ant-Man and the Wasp is ultimately part of a bigger, multi-billion dollar design, the film makes admirable efforts to make its own film in mind. Interestingly, that isn’t a superhero film, but a crime comedy. To this end, Reed, who directs a screenplay jointly written by a handful of writers including Paul Rudd, expels from his film the idea of heroes vs. villains, and thusly, chucks out the earth from the perpetual peril it’s grown acquainted to in many superhero movies. Down to its core, the film isn’t about saving the day, but chasing after a prized commodity—the Quantum Realm, and by extension, Janet.
Like its predecessor, the film is narratively modest when lined alongside its Marvel stablemates. That leaves the filmmakers plenty to play around with and little to screw up, and mostly, they deliver. Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who now dons The Wasp’s wings, is as individually charismatic as she is against Scott. Thanks are due for Lilly and Rudd, who pepper the film with some romance, a story element that, though ultimately loosens the otherwise conceivably tight screenplay, it’s easy to get on board with. This bit feels like a studious setup, both for the film’s own franchise and the M.C.E.U. in the whole, for the Mr. & Mrs-like getaways in which a constantly bickering, spandex-wearing nerd couple go on not-always-heroic missions to fill our hearts’ largest collective void.
Though it’s small enough that critics’ insistence on its purported function as mere palette cleanser doesn’t sound too far-off, Ant-Man and the Wasp tells a story that Marvel’s roster lacks sorely.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
2018 / Action, Adventure, Comedy, Crime, Science Fiction / US
Direction: Peyton Reed
Screenplay: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Peña, Hannah John-Kamen
As Scott Lang balances being both a Super Hero and a father, Hope van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym present an urgent new mission that finds the Ant-Man fighting alongside The Wasp to uncover secrets from their past.