Small-scale is not a phrase one would typically associate with the behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but 2015’s Ant-Man provided the closest approximation to date with its titular character who can shrink down (and also grow in stature) in the blink of an eye. The tone was agreeable, the comedy on the money, the action sequences tight and smartly staged, and the film had no delusions of grandeur being, instead, more than satisfied with its own particular merits. This 2018 sequel (for the record the 20th film in the MCU) similarly maintains and builds upon this nice balance of (often) tongue-in-cheek action, humorous interplay, engaging character development and winning central performances. We last encountered Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) during the skirmish which took place at Leipzig/Halle Airport in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Two years later, the former petty criminal is still under house arrest for the part he played in that aforementioned incident. He’s also burnt his bridges with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). Scott fills his days doting upon his now ten-year-old daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) and generally indulging in many inane pursuits. But the desire to prove himself a responsible parent – as per the previous chapter – drives him on as he attempts to atone for his past. To this latter end, he is developing his own security business with partners Luis (Michael Pena), Dave (Tip Harris) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian). Credited with five screenwriters in total (including Rudd himself), we might have expected something of a mess in these early stages, but, like its predecessor, Ant-Man and the Wasp largely succeeds by way of a feel-good-factor and attendant humour. The quips and one-liners come thick and fast. Actors Rudd and Pena – who are especially talented in this respect – excel in this particular environment.
The central plot device revolves around Hank and Hope’s desire and belief that they can bring Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) back from a sub-atomic place known as the quantum realm. The exposition for this was provided largely in the 2015 film, but returning director Peyton Reed (and his small army of screenwriters) can’t resist the urge to frame the whole thing with an opening prologue set in the late 1980s. Pym and his daughter are driven to a similar degree as Scott himself: the restoration of the family unit is the overarching motivation here, but, to be fair, the characters do no delude themselves thinking that normal relations can ever be properly restored again. And so we see a slightly more mature Scott accepting the fact that his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) will never return to his loving embrace. At a later stage, Janet reminds Hank of how long she has spent by herself in the quantum realm. I’m not the same person I was is the simple message conveyed here. One of the refreshing things about this film and its predecessor is that, unlike some of the other MCU films, it is not afraid of presenting its characters frailties upfront. Scott will never be the perfect Dad, nor will Janet ever be the individual Hope and Hank once remembered. But they will do their damnedest to be the best versions of themselves that they can be.
It scarcely seems essential to divulge much more of the plot, suffice to say that their are a plethora of sequences which have the titular characters employ their super-powered suits to telling effect. A sub-plot involving a character named Ghost touches upon the theme of personal survival and her close associate and former assistant to Hank Pym, Bill Foster, provides the welcome addition of Laurence Fishburne to the cast. Elsewhere, the wonderful Walton Goggins plays Sonny Burch, a black market low-life who has cottoned on to the market value of the technology developed by Hank and Hope in their efforts to rescue Janet from the quantum realm. Randall Park is not out of place as an amiable but somewhat blundering FBI agent. The evergreen Stan Lee meantime turns up as an old-age pensioner who has his car shrunk by one of the central characters. As per the 2015 film, Ant-Man and the Wasp’s best moments come by way of its many moments of digression and jocular asides. A stand-out scene in this respect involves Pena’s character being administered a euphemistic truth serum which – quite soon – has him providing needless backstory like there’s no tomorrow. In terms of comic performances, the film – not surprisingly – belongs to Pena and Rudd. Evangeline Lilly is once again suitably feisty as Hope. Michael Douglas fares well also in his respective role; the Oscar-winner still does cynicism very well but there’s also a roundness to his character development. In her few scenes during the film, Michelle Pfeiffer certainly does not let the side down. Aficionados of the MCU might very well rate this film and its predecessor as slight entries compared to the likes of Avengers: Infinity War, but, truth be told, we need welcome deviations such as this in the wake of the apocalyptic doom and gloom which was so prevalent in that earlier entry of 2018. A third film in this series within the series would be no bad thing. Sometimes the less ambitious the project, the greater the pleasure.