When it was announced that Ant-Man and The Wasp would follow Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War, there were a lot of questions raised as to how director Peyton Reed could follow up Marvel’s grandest spectacle. Simply put, the movie didn’t try to. Much like 2015’s Ant-Man, Ant-Man and The Wasp found its success in the charismatic performances of the cast, its heart, and the strong characterization of its heroes. Ant-Man and The Wasp reminds audiences that the MCU isn’t just about cosmic calamities and that it can also produce a heartfelt, funny, and deeply personal story.

Ant-Man and The Wasp Keeps the MCU Grounded

Ant-Man and The Wasp begins two years after the events of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, Ant-Man’s last appearance. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is under house arrest after aiding Captain America in Germany in blatant violation of the Sokovia Accords. The FBI is currently pursuing the whereabouts of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) for supplying Lang with the technology to aid Captain America, thus making them guilty of violating the Sokovia Accords as well. Lang’s deal prohibits him from meeting with his former associates, though Pym and Hope aren’t exactly itching to reach out to him. That is until a strange connection between Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), Pym’s wife and Hope’s mother who has been stuck in the quantum realm for 30 years, and Scott Lang manifests itself. The plot that follows is rather straightforward: as the heroes race against time to save Janet from the quantum realm, Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) urgently tries to steal Pym’s lab to save her existence, and black-market tech dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) seeks to steal and sell Pym’s technology. Tack on the FBI hunting the heroes, led by bumbling Agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), and the audience gets a delightfully fun action-packed adventure.

Ant-Man Means Well, But The Wasp Stings

While still a Marvel character in a big-budget blockbuster film, Ant-Man is not necessarily a heavy hitter in the MCU. Separate from the almost God-like statures of Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, or the critical eye of Spider-Man fans, Ant-Man has a lot of room to experiment and take risks some of the established franchises might not. Enter Paul Rudd: he’s charming, witty, and lovable, but perhaps not what one considers an instantly iconic hero like Chris Hemsworth or Chris Evans. As such, Rudd’s performance as Ant-Man demonstrates that clearly. The sometimes-bumbling hero isn’t all that graceful, proficient in combat, or the smartest person in the room, but he’s well equipped with heart and ingenuity.

Much to the ire of the other characters, Scott Lang doesn’t quite always think things through. Enter: The Wasp. Evangeline Lilly’s performance in 2015’s Ant-Man was a bit one-dimensional. She trained to be a hero, but her father wouldn’t let her. Here, we finally get to see what Hope Van Dyne can do. Spoiler alert: She’s amazing. Decked out with wings and blasters, The Wasp is probably a better hero than Ant-Man is. Where Lang gets by on his luck and heart, Van Dyne gets by on her technical prowess and intelligence. Evangeline Lilly outdoes herself in this role, serving as Marvel’s first female billed at the same level as a male star. While Ant-Man may be the central character of the series, The Wasp is the better hero.

The Performances Make the Movie

Ant-Man and the Wasp has a lot going on, sometimes too much. Sonny Burch and Ghost never truly have enough time to be fleshed out as menacing villains. Ghost’s abilities to phase through matter are explained and her motives for stealing Pym’s lab are sympathetically explained, but Ghost isn’t properly cemented as a higher tier villain. There are glimpses of top-villain material, but they ultimately fizzle out. In a similar vein, Burch’s character is rather stereotypical as Goggins plays a one-dimensional crime boss seeking to make a quick buck. Pym’s former colleague Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne) doesn’t have enough consistency to warrant being remembered or cared for by the audience. And Michael Pena’s loveable portrayal of Luis, Lang’s friend and Pym’s nuisance, feels somewhat ham-fisted in for comedic purposes.

However, these issues are easily forgivable thanks to the great performance each actor gives in their role. John-Kamen makes the most of her screen time as Ghost and delivers a powerful emotional performance when we learn of the villain’s past. Goggins shines through as the slimy, silver-tongued villain. While some of Pena’s moments may seem forced, his ability to bring levity to even the direst of circumstances is second only to Paul Rudd himself. Evangeline Lilly comes through at every turn as the straight woman to Rudd’s silliness and shines as the hero to be taken seriously. And of course, Laurence Fisburne and Michael Douglas demonstrate their veteran acting chops and are felt in each scene they appear in, even when the writing doesn’t quite measure up to their performances. Rudd once again demonstrates his wide range of emotion, from making jokes about prefixing words with quantum, to emotional discussions with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson).

Not as Big, but Still Important

A lot of people were disappointed at the overall lack of grandeur in Ant-Man and The Wasp. Most of the criticism following the film is in response to the epic levels of the past three installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Thor: Ragnarok delivered the end of Asgard, Black Panther saw King T’challa bring Wakanda into the world, and Avengers: Infinity War wiped out half of the universe. The stakes in each of these films were large and important, with lasting ramifications for the entire MCU. Ant-Man and The Wasp didn’t have those enormous stakes, and that’s okay.

There were a lot of references to other films in the MCU and the mid-credits scene will have major effects for the next Avengers movie, but overall Ant-Man and The Wasp has very minor stakes. Well, minor for the MCU but major for the heroes themselves. Hank Pym and Hope have finally found a way to save Janet from the quantum realm, but they’re on limited time. Scott Lang juggles being Ant-Man, his new security company, and maintaining the illusion that he’s still under house arrest (otherwise he’ll be imprisoned for 20 years). The villain, Ghost, is trying to save herself from phasing out of existence. The MCU would continue rolling if Janet never returns, or Scott gets sentenced to 20 years of jail, or if Ghost dies. Still, the story is told. If every movie had epic consequences, there would be no point in watching MCU films. The personal stakes in Ant-Man and The Wasp help us remember that heroic stories are still heroic, no matter how small the stakes may be.

Last Word on Ant-Man and The Wasp

Though not as epic in scope as Avengers: Infinity War and some of the other recent MCU releases, Ant-Man and The Wasp delivers a fun, light, and heartfelt story that functions as a much needed palate cleanser for the MCU. While the plot is sometimes jumbled, the film finds its strengths in great performances from its cast, its charm, and a down to Earth story.

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