Unburdened by the task of laying out the origins of Paul Rudd’s miniature hero, Ant-Man and the Wasp finds itself with more time to explore the weirder side of its world. And honestly, the weirder the better. Give me all of the ants playing drums, giant Pez dispensers, size-shifting Hot Wheels cars and trips into the quantum realm, please. When it really leans into the possibilities of a) having a duo of shrinking superheroes, who b) have the ability to manipulate the scale of buildings, vehicles, condiments and cutlery, it’s a blast. And Rudd’s wide-eyed wonderment at discovering each new advancement in his abilities brings laughs aplenty (even more so when he’s being shown them mid-combat by the considerably smarter and better equipped Wasp). There’s a witty off-beat nature that I wouldn’t have said no to more of, Reed occasionally tending to slide proceedings back towards the normality of the first film. Sure grounding is important, but if Ragnarok and Guardians have taught us anything it’s that eccentricity and emotional character depth can work hand in hand.
The more essential unburdening that the film receives comes from not having to directly follow up on Avengers: Infinity War. Running prior to (and in parallel with) that behemoth’s events, it’s given the freedom to do its own thing. And with about half the budget of Avengers, wisely the chosen focus is on character over full-on spectacle. Rudd shines with his usual charm as Ant-Man/Scott Lang, his relationship with his daughter Cassie (the terrific Abby Ryder Fortson) bringing him a dilemma rooted in his desire to be a better father; does he stay at home, where he’s serving the remaining days of his house arrest after his exploits in Civil War, or does he run to the aid of his estranged partner, Hope van Dyne/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) who needs his help in rescuing her once-thought-lost mother (Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet van Dyne)?
The best of the dramatic tension comes from the family dynamics, and it’s a good job as well with the villains of the piece falling short of the antagonistic standards set recently in the MCU by Thanos and Killmonger. Hannah John-Kamen’s phasing Ghost doesn’t pop as you’d hope, though her life or death plight does deliver a moral complexity which makes her at least interesting (and offers an improvement on Corey Stoll’s cartoony big-bad Yellowjacket in 2015’s Ant-Man). Walton Goggins’s secondary villain Sonny Burch, on the other hand, is as forgettable as they come.
No, the standouts here are the heroes. Michael Douglas returns with his standard gravitas as Hank Pym (with the help of some uncanny de-ageing in a handful of scenes). Michael Peña fires out the jokes as Luis. And Evangeline Lilly confidently steps into her headline spot next to Rudd, excelling in the action sequences, delivering scientific exposition with aplomb, and treating Lang’s romantic overtures with a hilarious eye-rolling apathy for large parts of the runtime. Both Ant-Man and the Wasp feel ready to stand alongside the Avengers.
It’s a big step forward for the littlest of Marvel’s heroes.
Rating (out of 5):