Where there was doom and gloom the last time we visited the Marvel Cinematic Universe, now there is light and love. Where there was death and destruction, now there are people regaining their footing in life and only some property damage and flipped cars. Most importantly, the stakes, so often raised and boosted and give other hyperbolic descriptors, are pretty minimal.
The sequel to the fine and dutiful Ant-Man soars above its predecessor, offering a refreshing, lively counterpoint to the tension of Avengers Infinity War. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), we learn, has been under house arrest for the last two years for his actions in Captain America: Civil War. He has occupied his time with great imagination and a bit of mania, learning to play the drums and spending time with his daughter while getting occasional supportive visits by his ex-wife and living husband.
Days before he is set to be released, Lang is visited by a vision from the quantum world, and his old partners, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) request his presence. They are seeking Hope’s mother and Hank’s wife who became trapped decades ago in the molecular universe, and apparently Lang can help.
It’s a rescue mission film, and there are some low-level villains that show up along the way, including a young woman who is only partially trapped by the quantum world (her name is Ghost, and she can do cool things with space), and cyber weapons dealer (Walton Goggins) who wants new, wild technology.
With a lively pace, and time spent on dialogue that is about banter and relationships rather than plot, Ant-Man and the Wasp, which gives Marvel its first female superhero billing in 20 tries, is a fun and fanciful caper, a capricious and carefree romp in San Francisco, a perfect refreshing summer film.
It seems indeed the film is more than any other entry freed from the constraints of world building and Marvel dogma. A few new characters pop in, rather effortlessly, and much of the film is spent doing things on a small scale: scenes in cars are frequent, as are those where our heroes are small. The fights don’t seem to kill anyone, and the finale doesn’t level a city – just some car accidents.
Director Peyton Reed uses the established Marvel model to offer a film that doesn’t want or need to spend much time about creating a menacing villain or advancing a complicated story. Ghost, the dealer, and our heroes all are trying to either use safely or acquire Pym’s lab, which conveniently shrinks to the size of a briefcase. Adding to the chase film is a group of FBI agents led by Randall Park, who is just enough of a buffoon to be believable and hilarious.
Rudd and Lilly are great co stars together, and their romance feels more natural than any we’ve seen in these films, in part because it’s not forced or urgent.
Much of the success of this film has to do with timing: the time of year, where we are in the MCU, and what we all witnessed in Infinity War (which yes, is addressed). Still, there are plenty of jokes, puns, and gags, (many from Michael Pena) to make this among the most joyful Marvel entries.