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Twice the Action on Half the Screen 

Paul Rudd
Paul Rudd
Walt Disney Studios
 118 Minutes
Directed by: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly  
Ant-Man and the Wasp

No less an expert than William Shakespeare knew the effectiveness of inserting scenes of comic relief into his most serious plays, such as Hamlet and Macbeth, with the comedy often coming directly after something truly shocking occurs onstage. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that, immediately following the somber conclusion of the recent Avengers: Infinity War, the next film to emerge from the Marvel Studios superhero factory (Deadpool 2 was not a Marvel Studios production) is probably the lightest ever in the Marvel canon, Ant-Man and the Wasp. And like Shakespeare’s comic scenes, it serves as a brief yet enjoyable respite from more serious things to come.


Marvel films have never been completely somber, but the studio and its Disney overlords have a knack for matching the tone of the film to the actor playing the leading role. The original Ant-Man was at heart a typical Marvel film, albeit one with a hero who was definitely in the second string in the Marvel pantheon, about a man who had made some bad decisions in his life but was given a chance to redeem himself with the aid of a suit that imparted some strange but effective superpowers. In the hands of a more serious actor, it might have been a much gloomier film. But with Paul Rudd in the lead (and also contributing to the script) and comedy director Peyton Reed at the helm, Ant-Man had a good balance of comedy and drama.


But that was before Avengers: Infinity War, with its distinctively downbeat ending. The powers that be at Disney doubtless feared that another dose of heavy handed film making, especially with one of its more accomplished comic lead actors, would probably not go over all that well. So, Ant-Man and the Wasp was carefully assembled by figuring out what, and who, worked in the first Ant-Man movie and then doubling or even tripling down on it.


Not surprisingly, the plot of Ant-Man and the Wasp is not the film’s strong suit. In the first film, Scott Lang (Rudd) had no real superpowers, but when he wore a special suit designed by scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), he acquired the ability to expand and contract his body size. Unfortunately for Scott, he wound up using that suit later to come to the aid of some of his fellow superheroes on the wrong side of Captain America: Civil War and found himself under arrest for violating his probation. He was then sentenced to house arrest, where he remains, as Wasp begins, with only a couple of days left.


Before Scott can finish out his probation, however, he winds up helping Hank and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who now has her own, even better supersuit with wings that allow her to become the Wasp, another size shifting superhero. Hank and Hope want to complete their newest device, a machine that can help Scott enter the quantum realm, a subatomic world where Scott visited briefly in the first film and where Hank thinks his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) has been for the last 30 years. Before Hank can send anyone into the quantum realm, however, he has to keep his discovery safe from two determined pursuers, a crooked arms dealer named Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), and a woman wearing a white samurai outfit calling herself Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). Ghost has actual superpowers—she can vibrate through and into objects—but those powers were caused by her exposure to the quantum realm and are gradually killing her. She hopes that finding Janet and tapping into the missing woman’s energy will cure her.


Explaining the central storyline actually takes up a good bit of the sequel’s running time, with Hank, Ghost, Hope and Hank’s old partner Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne) pontificating for too long about the inner workings of the quantum realm and Hank’s machine. It’s all movie babble hokum, and the quantum realm machine, hidden inside Hank’s headquarters building, which has conveniently been shrunk to the size of a suitcase, is nothing more than an elaborate McGuffin. The one thing that the storyline has going for it is that it lacks the overwhelming overbearing solemnity of other Marvel films. It’s a device that allows the film makers to do what’s best, namely to shrink and grow people and objects as need be.


Director Reed and his second unit do an amazing job of choreographing all the action scenes so that the changes in perspective usually appear real, and then incorporating them into the action, usually for maximum comic effect. There’s something to a man growing from an inch tall to normal size to clobber an opponent, then shrinking to make his getaway. The big set piece chase scene (part of which is shown in the clip below) features shrinking cars and, eventually, an Ant-Man who grows to enormous size. And, in addition, there’s some great one-on-one action between the Wasp and Ghost.


Even beyond the action, which is often played for laughs thanks to the size-changing gimmick, Ant-Man and the Wasp has plenty of humor, usually in the form of one-liner non sequiturs courtesy of Paul Rudd, who is one of the five credited screenwriters. Usually, that many screenwriting cooks spoil the cinematic broth, and, at least in terms of the glaring plot flaws, they do. But Rudd handles his banter much the same as Ryan Reynolds did as Deadpool a couple of months earlier, and the ratio of hits to misses in the fast paced banter is reasonably high.


The audience needs to remain fixated on the size changing gimmickry (which somehow doesn’t grow old over the film’s two-hour running time) and the witticisms Rudd fires out, because that’s pretty much all there is to Ant-Man and the Wasp. The film does manage to strike a few good notes about the importance of family (of all sorts), but the villains are exceptionally weak, with Walton Goggins straining mightily to give his clichéd character enough quirks to make him interesting. The rest, even including Ghost, don’t really register very much.


Ant-Man and the Wasp is a slight film, but it’s one whose heart is in the right place, as it mixes wit, zany action, and family warmth to good effect, while allowing Marvel fans to postpone the eventual day of reckoning with the events portrayed in Avengers: Infinity War. Much as Shakespeare’s comic moments aren’t what people recall in his somber tragedies, Wasp won’t rank high in the eventual Marvel pantheon. But, as an entertaining summer respite, it’s definitely not small potatoes.

In this clip, Evangeline Lilly goes small to avoid the bad guys.

Read other reviews of Ant-Man and the Wasp: 

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) on IMDb