In just about every way, Ant-Man and the Wasp is even better than the original film. While that 2015 origin story was highly entertaining, perhaps unexpectedly so, it was still a bit weighed down by a few minor issues that prevented it from reaching the heights of something like Guardians of the Galaxy. With Ant-Man and the Wasp, Peyton Reed corrects a lot of those problems to deliver what is ultimately a much more satisfying experience and another big win in Marvel’s unbelievably consistent third phase.
After the jaw-dropping cliffhanger of Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel takes a step back and offers something completely different with their latest, which actually takes place before Thanos unleashed his destruction upon the world. After violating the Sokovia Accords by participating in that whole civil war the Avengers had in 2016, Scott Lang is now under house arrest, and Hank and Hope are on the run. Because Scott used their technology in Civil War, they technically violated the accords, too. But Hank has a new mission. Seeing as Scott proved that returning from the Quantum Realm is possible in the last movie, Hank hopes to journey there and rescue his wife, who disappeared when she went subatomic 30 years ago.
The biggest weakness of the original Ant-Man was definitely the film’s villain, Darren Cross. This was back when Marvel’s antagonists tended to be forgettable and one-dimensional in just about every movie, and that was undeniably true of Cross, a character who was so cartoonish that the film had to explain his actions by saying that exposure to the Pym Particles messed with his brain chemistry. In Phase 3, though, Marvel has clearly gone out of its way to correct this, giving us a string of antagonists who are not only more memorable but who have much more reasonable motivations that we can at times sympathize with, from Ego and The Vulture to Killmonger and even Thanos.
With Ant-Man and the Wasp, that string of superior villains continues. Without getting into spoilers, we don’t have another Darren Cross situation on our hands here. The villain in this second movie, Ghost, is compelling and unique with a fully developed backstory, and she’s played convincingly by Hannah John-Kamen. Darren Cross was fairly similar to several MCU villains we’d seen before, but Ghost isn’t exactly like any of them. Near the end, some of her motivations get a bit muddled, and we can’t help but feel that Reed was just a few scenes away from making this character as strong as someone like Killmonger. Still, this is definitely a massive step up from the first film. Unfortunately, though, Walton Goggins is wasted as Sonny Burch, an antagonist with less screen time who never amounts to anything worthwhile.
Another issue with the original Ant-Man was how much the movie felt the need to shoehorn in connections to the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe. A detour to fight Sam Wilson in the middle ultimately feels a bit pointless, especially upon rewatch. But Ant-Man and the Wasp is far more self-contained. There are naturally references made to the events of Civil War, seeing as those dramatically alter Scott’s life. But other than that, the rest of the MCU is not really a part of this film. The story has room to breathe on its own, and the movie is better for it.
You’ll recall that the first Ant-Man went through a lot of production difficulties, with Peyton Reed coming in to replace Edgar Wright just about a year before the film’s release. With that in mind, it’s remarkable how solid the final product was. Still, there were definitely a few tonal shifts throughout, as if the movie itself was grappling with how seriously we should take the whole affair. And for a story with such a zany premise, it relied a bit too much on genre cliches played totally straight when we would hope Reed would go off the beaten path more often.
That’s precisely what he does with Ant-Man and the Wasp. The sequel is bursting at the seams with creativity and humor, and Reed clearly knows exactly what kind of film he’s making this time. As shown off in the trailers, he makes great use of the shrinking and growing technology all throughout (with a greater emphasis placed on the growing this time), packing each scene with creative ideas that could not exist anywhere else. Simply put, Reed isn’t afraid to get goofy here, and it really works. One particular sequence that involves Scott being stuck at a comical size absolutely brings the house down. In addition, the central plot is not only much more interesting than that of the original, but it’s something we really connect with emotionally.
Finally, with the first Ant-Man, it was frustrating that Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne couldn’t get in on the action herself, although this was explained within the plot. This time, it’s so very gratifying to see her step up to the plate as Hope, although unfortunately, she never gets an action scene as magnificent as her very first one, which takes place in a kitchen. Still, Lilly pulls off both the movie’s comedic and dramatic moments flawlessly, and this is undoubtedly a character who needs to be a part of the Avengers as the MCU continues on.
Ant-Man and the Wasp address the first film’s weaknesses while at the same time doubling down on everything that we loved about it. In particular, the movie centers largely on Scott Lang’s relationship with his daughter, which worked the first time and is an even bigger hit here; these scenes are consistently adorable and help remind us what the stakes are for Scott amid all of this madness. But once again, Michael Peña steals the show and gets the movie’s best scene.
The film isn’t perfect, though. In addition to Walton Goggins’ character being a bust, the final 20 minutes or so are a bit rushed. Certain developments just sort of happen near the end, and they don’t always feel earned or like they were given the time they deserved to resonate. In fact, the whole movie is maybe a bit too fast-paced for its own good. Though Ant-Man and the Wasp is already a few minutes longer than the original, it could have used even more time to allow certain moments to land much harder than they do and to give some characters clearer arcs.
Overall, though, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a delightful sequel, one that boasts energetic action sequences, hilarious gags, and an emotional core that is a lot more moving than you might expect. By providing us with a three-dimensional villain, shedding most of its connections to the larger MCU, allowing itself to get a bit wilder, and giving Evangeline Lilly more to do, the movie is ultimately superior to the original, and it’s difficult to imagine not leaving the theater with a smile on your face.
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