CAST: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Peña, Hannah John-Kamen, Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne
DIRECTED BY: Peyton Reed
WRITTEN BY: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, and Gabriel Ferrari
RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes
GOOD THINGS IN SMALL PACKAGES: A REVIEW OF ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018) SANS SPOILERS
by Jim Wallace
Three months after the USA theatrical release of Superman (1978), starring the late Christopher Reeve, the late Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane in the movie, hosted Saturday Night Live. And in one of the episode’s skits, “Superhero Party,” Dan Aykroyd as the Flash and John Belushi as the Hulk make fun of Garrett Morris as Ant-Man for having what they perceive as trivial superpowers after Ant-Man explains, “[I talk to the ants], but mainly I shrink myself down to the size of an ant while retaining my full human strength.” In homage to his portrayal, the movie Ant-Man (2015) includes a Garrett Morris cameo à la Stan Lee.
Ant-Man occurs in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, given its hero’s name and powers, should’ve been the laughingstock of that multibillion-dollar party. Instead, it’s a good (but not great) movie and one of the better entries in the MCU. (An early scene featuring an animated presentation about the capabilities of an ant-sized human soldier establishes just how game-changing and dangerous the technology really would be. An Ant-Man would have “the ultimate combat advantage,” especially “in an era in which [military capabilities] are undermined by constant surveillance” and especially in spying, sabotage, and assassination.)
And its follow-up Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) defies expectations as well by being even better than the original, which is very rare for a sequel. It continues the storyline that was begun in the original and threaded through Captain America: Civil War (2016) and connects it to the upcoming sequel to Avengers: Infinity War (2018). Four decades earlier, physicist Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) created “the Pym particle,” “a formula that … change[s] the distance between atoms,” and used it to power his Ant-Man suit and fight for SHIELD (an espionage, special law-enforcement, and counter-terrorism agency) as a Cold War super-soldier.
But in 1989, two years after his wife became lost in “the Quantum Realm” after shrinking to subatomic size to enter and disable a USA-bound ICBM, Pym discovered that SHIELD was trying to replicate his formula. Enraged, he resigned and decided to hide his shrinking technology from the world because “it was too dangerous” and “could change the texture of reality.” But after he was forced out of the company he then started, Pym Technologies, his former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) began working on replicating the technology with the intention of supplying it to the highest bidder. So Pym decided to recruit someone to stop him.
That someone was Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a cat burglar with a master’s degree in electrical engineering who served three years in prison for a Robin Hood type of crime against an unethical corporation with an “unbeatable” security system. Lang succeeded in destroying Cross’s technology and defeating Cross but had to shrink to subatomic size to enter and sabotage Cross’s own “Yellowjacket” suit. Lang’s returning from the Quantum Realm gave Pym hope that his wife is still alive, so he and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), a.k.a. the Wasp, began working on a stable tunnel to the Quantum Realm for a rescue.
And that’s what Ant-Man and the Wasp is about: the original Ant-Man Hank Pym, the new Wasp Hope van Dyne, and the new Ant-Man Scott Lang working to rescue the original Wasp Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm while bedeviled by FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), black market tech dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), and the “quantumly unstable” Ghost Ava Starr (Hannah John-Kamen). This sequel has a faster pace, more and better action, and funnier and more frequent jokes than the original while sharing its strengths: astonishing visual effects, a playful spirit, and great character chemistry.
Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is like a less goofy version of Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill: good-hearted, boyish, and silly but not a doofus. Michael Douglas’s skeezy, swaggering, sarcastic screen presence somehow suits the cantankerous old Hank Pym. Evangeline Lilly makes the matter-of-fact Hope van Dyne likeable as well as super-capable. And Michael Peña, as Lang’s motormouthed former cellmate and current business partner Luis, almost steals the comedy show, which is no mean feat in a movie this screwball. Yes, Ant-Man and the Wasp is often too blithe and unfocused; but it’s still a pretty good movie and one of the best MCU movies.
(Ant-Man and the Wasp seems to have been inspired by another screwball comedy about miniaturizing humans: Innerspace (1987), directed by Joe Dante and starring Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, and Meg Ryan. Innerspace is about as good as Ant-Man and the Wasp but merely broke even at the box office because of its poor marketing campaign. It did become a hit on videotape, though.)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline:
How to watch the MCU saga in chronological rather than release order: