Ant-Man and the Wasp is, frankly, a mediocre showing for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has some brilliant stuff within it, as one might expect from the studio that has revolutionized the idea of a connected universe of films for the last 10 years. However, that brilliant stuff is marred down by a weak plot with awkward pacing and some noticeable problems balancing the movie’s comedy and heart.
Now as usual I’m not planning on putting any spoilers in this mini-review here. Though all things being equal, I would argue there isn’t too much to spoil outside of the end credit stuff that isn’t already shown in trailers and advertisements.
I do wish I could talk about that end credit stuff, because I’m still overjoyed at how my post-Infinity War fan theory was made true in a big, bad way.
But I won’t. Just know that Marvel has no chill right now and I love it.
The first Ant-Man movie was something of a surprise hit for Marvel along the same wavelength as Guardians of the Galaxy. Nobody expected much of anything out of a superhero film with a premise that the hero can shrink down and be really small.
However, by mixing together a lovable main character, some well-done comedy, a few clever visual spectacles and a heist film plot, the movie was a fun little success.
It led to Paul Rudd, the titular Ant-Man, becoming something of a darling in the MCU. He turned into the kind of character whose cameos improved other films like Civil War. As a result, people were a little disappointed when Rudd and Jeremy Renner (the universe’s Hawkeye) did not appear in the crossover blockbuster Infinity War due to a somewhat weak excuse.
That they had “other things going on.”
So Ant-Man and the Wasp, the second MCU film starring Rudd and Evangeline Lilly as our other titular hero, promised to hopefully be the compelling story of just what was so damn important that we couldn’t have shrinking powers assisting in the big fight against Thanos.
What we got was a product that, like I said, was rather mediocre. But not because of its explanations regarding Rudd and Lilly’s absence from Infinity War.
As something of a side-discussion before I jump into where Ant-Man and the Wasp faltered, I want to dive into the reason why I love the opening premise to this film. Even going back to the original advertisements for it, I knew I was looking forward to Ant-Man 2 because it’s a movie that’s predicated on the consequences of other movies.
The aftermath of Civil War, where Rudd is part of the group arrested for siding with Captain America against government restrictions on superheroes, plays heavily into the plot of Ant-Man 2. Much of Rudd’s struggle is having to help his friends while also trying to serve his last three days of house arrest so he can be free to see his daughter more. Meanwhile, Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym and his daughter Hope (Lilly) are also on the run from the FBI because their tech was what allowed Rudd to take part in that battle.
I love that Ant-Man is being used as an example of how actions in their universe have consequences going forward, much like Civil War did. Just a little less heavy-handed due to its smaller scale story.
As much as I love the way the movie is set-up, the plot it rolls with given that establishment isn’t the most stellar one we’ve seen. The first third of the film is great and the resolution is decent. But the middle of the movie is bland and forgettable, in part because of the way it tries to balance at least six different stories at once.
That’s right, if the back-and-forth of those three or four driving plot points I’ve already laid out aren’t enough, there are also a couple of separate things going on with all the side character. That’s not even mentioning the film’s villain Ghost, played by Hannah John-Kamen.
She does alright with what she’s working with, but for the most part Ghost feels like a more one-note throwaway character than most of the other Marvel villains we’ve seen lately. Her personal story arc also has a vague conclusion in the film that seems sidelined in place of Rudd going after his happy ending.
They do offer John-Kamen room for possible inclusion in sequels, but not enough was done to encourage me to be excited for her to show up again.
The way Ghost’s inclusion seemed choppy was kind of emblematic of the problems with Ant-Man and the Wasp as a whole. Because so much was being done all over the place with each character, it felt like a lot of the film was left on the cutting room floor. Many of the scenes feel rushed, with quick cuts that seemed more jarring than stylized in the overall package.
Balancing all of those aspects also created tonal issues. There are a lot of attempts to be comedic that fall flat. For every funny bit, like relating Ghost to an old Russian folktale, there are two or three returning bits from the original Ant-Man that seem to be there just to reference the original Ant-Man.
The lackluster comedic bits hurt especially so because they are interjected around emotional moments that work damn well. Ant-Man and the Wasp is a movie about family, and each character struggles with familial issues in some way or another.
Rudd’s character shines far brighter whenever he’s with his daughter than when he’s the ‘dumb, goofy everyman’ archetype stuck in a room trying to pretend he understands what’s happening.
Every moment his daughter, captured expertly by Abby Ryder Fortson, was on-screen made the movie that much better. You can tell she and Rudd had an electric chemistry together that left the whole audience saying ‘aww’ throughout the film.
Lilly’s relations towards her mother, another driving motif in the film, are also quite heartfelt. I actually teared up a little during the film’s cold open, which was surprisingly well done and emotional.
Ant-Man and the Wasp should have spent more time deciding whether it wanted to be a comedic movie or a heartfelt one. Either path likely would have led it to more success, but the balance is skewed badly in its current state.
It did have some decent action scenes to stand on, especially when digging back into the things that made the original so good: Playing with size.
I won’t spoil too many specific bits, but probably the most memorable moments outside of Ant-Man with his daughter were the moments playing with making big things small and vice versa.
Though my personal favorite ones involved a salt shaker and some hot wheels cars.
Like I said at the top, there were some great things throughout Ant-Man and the Wasp that were wonderful. The family moments, some of the comedy and the visuals especially… Plus the spoiler-y stuff I won’t go into.
However, it was so bogged down by much larger problems that the high of the end-credit scenes quickly fade into a lukewarm reception at best.
Oh, there is one more thing I can think to mention. But my friend Lissete put it best, so I’m going to let her handle this:
Yeah… Arguably the most egregious use of product placement I’ve seen in a Marvel movie thus far.
It’s pretty noticeable all over, though I won’t say it ruined or improved the movie for me in any significant way.
If nothing else, I’ll just say it’s worth seeing the movie – either now or later on cable – to understand why I now want Paul Rudd to be both my Dad and Mom.