FilmSpace: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Film critic Scott Wilson reviews the twentieth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the first to include a female hero in its title

Ant-Man and the Wasp – ★★★☆☆

The second season of Stranger Things had a moment that frustrated everybody. Episode 6 – The Spy – ended with one hell of a cliff-hanger after a relatively slow start to that set of episodes, as monsters converged on the heroes with seemingly no way out. Boom – end credits.

Episode 7 – The Lost Sister – jumped to another place and time entirely, following another character taking part in insignificant schemes, seemingly for no reason other than to delay the release of tension from the previous hour. For a show that had been adored by critics and audiences, this was a step too far, a waste of time, and has been noted as a low point of the series.

After the events of Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp is Marvel’s episode 7. Our last foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe ended on a devastating note, with Thanos relaxing after a job well done, a job that involved the dissolvement of half the population. 

Audiences desperate for some resolution will have to wait. Ant-Man and the Wasp joins Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang while he is under house arrest for the events of Captain America: Civil War. Coming to the end of his two-year sentence, he has a dream of Hope van Dyne’s mother, Janet, a woman thought to be lost forever in the quantum realm. Hope and her father Hank are not about to wait for his sentence to be up if there is even the tiniest chance Janet is still alive.

In their way are both Sonny Burch, a goon after Hank’s wares for the black market, and Ghost, a suited figure phasing in and out of existence in need of Hank’s technology to fully return to this world.

It completely delivers with its stellar cast, entertaining script, and good nature. It just also feels entirely insignificant. 

That this was not going to deal with Infinity War was evident from both its marketing and its place in the MCU’s film sequencing. Ant-Man’s absence from the struggle against Thanos is thoroughly explained, with the events of Ant-Man and the Wasp happening concurrently, converging in the latter’s mid-credits scene. 

Meaning, this is a palate cleanser before getting back into it with Captain Marvel next March. It gives the film a freedom to be slight and comical, more focused on providing a good time than high stakes. Where huge action set-pieces and long-awaited interactions were the highlights of Infinity War, here the talking points are more grounded and snappy, like another of Michael Peña’s kinetic bursts of information and Paul Rudd’s impersonation of being possessed by Michelle Pfieffer’s Janet. 

It does, however, return to the MCU’s problem with villains. Thanos is a tough act to follow, but Sonny Burch is a nobody despite Walton Goggins doing his best generic bad guy act (continued from this year’s Tomb Raider). Sure, he is slimy and a trickster, but he is no intergalactic menace, and even from the beginning feels more like an inconvenience to be swatted like a fly than a genuine threat.

Ghost is more interesting, as is Hannah John-Kamen’s portrayal. Her movements are jagged and urgent, always aware of an impending doom. That Hank never offers to help her is a real source of confusion; Ghost is an antagonist because she needs something to survive that the heroes have in their possession, and not because of any nefarious plotting. No one pays to see characters in the MCU just talk it out, but it seems uncharacteristic that that is not the solution here.  

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Evangeline Lilly comes into her own as the Wasp. She is the first female actor to have her character’s name in the film’s title, so this really is a co-led movie. Lilly’s Hope drives much of the plot: it is the search for her mother that sets everything in motion, and it is her determination more than Lang’s that will see it happen. It is a big moment quietly done, as Lilly takes the title which many assumed would go to Scarlett Johansson and her Black Widow. 

Yet, the film’s insignificance is tough to ignore. The MCU provide a reliably good time, and that is no less true here, but after Infinity War’s game-changing conclusion, Ant-Man and the Wasp was always going to be slightly frustrating. This is a fun movie, with one of the better casts of the twenty films in the series, that does provide what it sets out to: entertainment and laughs. The problem is that it set the bar so low by totally ignoring what happened earlier in the summer. There would have been more narrative and emotional impact if Marvel had let Infinity War’s tragedy ring out for longer before we see these characters again. 

After the impressive run of Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp will not be bothering the upper tier of anyone’s MCU rankings. It completely delivers with its stellar cast, entertaining script, and good nature. It just also feels entirely insignificant. 

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