“Ant-Man and the Wasp” plays if safe, keeps things small

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Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios

“Infinity War” burst onto the scene and annihilated the emotions of many Marvel fans, as though they were a small trailer park in the path of a raging tornado. However, Marvel’s choice to follow the fiery scenes with “Ant-Man and the Wasp” feels like a ray of sunshine. Though it doesn’t provide an abundance of hope, it does provide some joy after having to endure something that likely devastated many fans.

After fighting with Captain America during the events of “Civil War,” Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who operates as the superhero Ant-Man, is placed under house arrest. Unable to participate in hero activities, he has created a security business with his former thief colleagues: Luis (Michael Peña), Dave (T.I.) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian). Elsewhere, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the original Ant-Man, and his daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who is now the superhero known as Wasp, are trying to create technology that will allow them to enter the Quantum Realm in the hopes of finding Hope’s lost mother, Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), the original Wasp. When Scott has a dream that seems to hint at a mental connection between him and Janet, Hope and Hank seek his help in locating her. All the while, a mysterious, shadow-like figure only known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), due to her ability to phase through walls, is out to get the Quantum Realm technology for her own purposes.

The first “Ant-Man” is one of the weaker Marvel films. It is a very average origin story with one or two good action sequences, but its characters are really interesting even though the actors portraying them are very charismatic. One of the weakest parts of “Ant-Man” was the character Hope. Lilly was unfortunately saddled with a character that writers chose to portray as catty and constantly nagging. With a “business woman bob” to boot, Hope came off less like a fully fledged character and more like a sexist stereotype meant to make the fun-loving, care-free Scott Lang seem cooler by proxy. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” even calls attention to how poorly written her character is in a delightful recap segment from Luis. In general, the writing behind Hope is greatly improved. She is still goal-oriented and hates roadblocks and delays, but she is also charming and funny in the sequel. She cracks jokes and mocks Scott while also making sure to keep his more chaotic personality in check.

Scott, on the other hand, is not really that improved. “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” just like its predecessor, doesn’t really make you care about Scott’s emotional journey. He wants to be a help to people who rely on him and he wants to be a hero in his daughter’s eyes. It is not only average and thinly-written backstory, but it really doesn’t flesh out his character who is mainly just Paul Rudd. Which is fine, Paul Rudd is funny, but it should be more than that. Tony Stark is more than just Robert Downey, Jr.; T’Challa is more than“just Chadwick Boseman. They’re fledged out and their personalities are actively interesting and unique to their characters. Scott continues to be a swing and a miss for me in terms of emotional impact, but at least Rudd is charming and funny enough to make watching the character enjoyable.

Most of the other characters in the film work very well. Michael Douglas plays his grouchy character very well, and Peña is a comedic genius when delivering his recap segments. Michelle Pfeiffer, Walton Goggins and Laurence Fishburne all make prominent appearances in the film, but don’t get enough to do, which is upsetting when you consider their legendary acting careers. The truly surprising performance is from Hannah John-Kamen, who plays Ghost with some real emotional heft. After Vulture, Killmonger, Thanos and even Zemo and Hela to an extent, it is clear that Marvel is committed to creating villains with some actual background and personality. Marvel hasn’t had a character that is pure shell of villainy in awhile, and by doing so the story is enriched. Ghost is interesting because she isn’t interested in causing anyone harm. It just so happens that her goals, which aren’t evil, happen to cross paths with our heroes. Talking anymore about it would constitute spoilers, but Ghost is one of the more unique Marvel villains, and John-Kamen does a great job of selling the character’s motivations and the pain she that she endures.

That being said, John-Kamen doesn’t really get a lot of time to really flush out the character and how multi-faceted the character could be because the movie jumps around so much. While dealing with Ghost trying to steal their technology, the group also runs afoul of a group of black market dealers led by Goggins’ character, and a team of FBI agents including Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) as Lang’s parole officer. Having to juggle this many adversaries makes for fun and kinetic action scenes, but it all ends up being too much. Goggins and Park are both fantastic actors. They should have been saved to play more meaty and interesting roles in the MCU, but are saddled with two very small and inconsequential antagonists instead. It detracts too much away from the parts of the plot that are interesting and adds an unnecessary amount of screentime. Focusing entirely on John-Kamen would have been much more interesting and wouldn’t have made the plot seem so scattered.

Overall, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is a fun time at the theater. It is a welcome round of dessert after the five-course meal that was “Avengers: Infinity War.” Old characters improve, while others stay stagnant and new ones flourish. The action and shrinking is fun, fast and fluid, but occasionally things are too scattered, unfocused and inconsequential to make you feel fully immersed in the experience.

Rating: 3/5