Despite much of its worldwide release being delayed by that famed competition where 22 guys in shorts run around chasing a ball; it’s clear that the box office numbers for Ant-Man and the Wasp aren’t quite going to be reaching the heights of the two other Marvel releases this year: Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. Five weeks after its July 6th release, Ant-Man and the Wasp has only earned just shy of $200 million in the United States; a number that puts it on track for a final total on the lower end of the Marvel spectrum.
But perhaps its box office total doesn’t really matter. As the 20th instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp represents so much more. It symbolises a milestone never achieved before, and unlikely to ever be achieved again. What other movie series spent a decade building a universe-spanning narrative, each chapter building almost effortlessly on what took place before?
So while Ant-Man and the Wasp does build on what came before, its overall impact from a plot perspective is as insignificant as its pint-sized hero. Add in the fact that the unresolved events of Infinity War present a far more interesting narrative to follow; and the Ant-Man sequel ends up feeling like nothing more than a filler TV episode.
Having been sentenced to two years of house arrest after his illegal activity in Germany during the events of Captain America: Civil War; Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is gleefully looking forward to the end of his imprisonment.
Meanwhile Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and her father, Hank (Michael Douglas) are on the run from the authorities. In a shrinkable/portable lab, they have spent the past two years hunting for a way to enter the quantum realm; a sub-atomic universe where they believe Hope’s mother and Hank’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) has been trapped for the past 30 years.
But these two separate threads are soon thrown together by the appearance of Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen); a mysterious female who phases in and out of reality, and seems hell-bent on destroying Ant-Man and stealing Hank’s technology for herself.
If, after the downbeat ending of Infinity War, you might be looking for a palate-cleanser; then Ant-Man and the Wasp is definitely for you. With the same tongue-in-check attitude as the 2015 original, this movie knows that it’s silly and isn’t afraid to embrace it. That sense of fun permeates both the dialogue and the many action scenes.
Speaking of action scenes, the combined experience of director Peyton Reed, stunt coordinator George Cottle, and fight coordinator Chris Brewster, have led to some intensely imaginative scenes. None more so than the introduction of the titular Wasp in the film’s early moments. Set almost entirely inside a hotel lobby and kitchen, we get to see Lilly’s character more than hold her own against overwhelming odds. It’s an astounding showcase of the flying superhero’s powers, as well as showing how far visual effects for the shrinking technology has developed since Civil War.
That same development, however, doesn’t extend to character. At least not in the same way as it does in the original Ant-Man. While Scott Lang’s desire to improve himself and become a better role model to his daughter was at the core of the 2015 original; here the father/daughter dynamic has been transferred to Hope & Hank. While this does leave Rudd with very little emotional lifting; it does allow Lilly and Douglas to develop the limited relationship they had in the first film, resulting in some of the most touching moments in the story.
But the shortcomings of the movie are significant, most noticeably in its antagonists. John-Kamen’s Ava (aka Ghost) is just another in a long line of ineffectual Marvel villains. While there are attempts to endear the audience to her plight; these all ultimately fall flat on their faces. Walton Goggins’ Sonny Burch doesn’t fair much better, clearly having been introduced only because the movie refuses to make Ava a full-on villain.
Furthermore, of all 20 Marvel movies, Ant-Man and the Wasp has got to be the absolute worst at exposition delivery. While there are attempts to hide such ineffectiveness through comedy, especially through the characters played by Randall Park and Michael Peña; there’s no avoiding the fact that the script (written by *deep breath* Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari) makes each info dump feel like a slog.
When looking at the big picture, Marvel’s first sequels are sort of hit and miss. With the exception of Winter Solider (which vastly improves on the original), most either tend to be worse, or just about reach the heights of the original. Ant-Man and the Wasp at least bucks this trend; ranking reasonably well amongst the Marvel sequels.
However it’s impossible to avoid the context in which the Ant-Man sequel has been released. As comparison, imagine enjoying the cinematic experiences of The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers; but then it’s followed by something like a Leoglas prequel. It might have been a good film, but would anyone have preferred it to the climax of the ongoing story of Frodo and the Ring? Ant-Man and the Wasp has exactly the same problem. Maybe in a few years it’ll be easier to appreciate; but in the wake of the titanic cliffhanger of Infinity War, it’s rather difficult to muster any enthusiasm for Ant-Man and his friends.