Superhero movies like to go big – the heroes are fighting to save the country, save the world, save the galaxy, save the universe, save reality itself. And the villains tend to have similarly big plans – even if they’re only at phase one of those plans.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is no exception. What sets the MCU apart is their impeccable craftsmanship – which tends to include some welcome humour – and their willingness to explore smaller stories. These smaller -scale stories usually occur within a movie that has bigger stakes, but every so often the masters of the MCU decide to produce a refreshing miniature, like Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Scott Lang was introduced in 2015’s Ant-Man as a well-meaning, Robin Hood-ish ex-con trying to do the right thing for his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). Billionaire scientist Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) recruited Scott to take on his mantle as Ant-Man, a super-shrinking superhero, to help stop a former protege who wanted to sell Pym’s technology to the highest bidder.
Scott returned in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, where he helped out Captain America (Chris Evans) but in the process violated the Sokovia Accords – designed as a means of regulating superpowered people after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). As a result of a plea deal, Scott is under house arrest and Dr Pym and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) are on the run.
Pym lost his wife Janet von Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), the super-heroine Wasp, in 1987. She shrank between the molecules of a nuclear missile to disable it, but in the process kept shrinking and disappeared into the quantum realm.
Pym believed her lost forever, but Scott managed to do the same thing and return. Now the good doctor is dedicated to finding a way to bring her back, and his chances get better when Scott has a strange dream, a dream that is probably a message from Janet.
Hope – now the super-shrinking, flying Wasp – “liberates” Scott and the trio team up to rescue Janet. Unfortunately they make an enemy of the ambitious high-tech arms dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), who wants Pym’s tech, and of the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) a young woman who phases in and out of the physical realm, and sees Pym’s research as the only way to save herself.
All the while, they must evade ultra- nice, part-time youth pastor, full-time FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), who is Scott’s parole officer and is hunting the Pyms.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is the lightest MCU movie thus far. Coming on the heels of the tragedy and gravity of Avengers: Infinity War, it is a welcome and refreshing change, while still maintaining the high-calibre storytelling. Instead of forbidding and formidable villains, it has antagonists and a ticking clock. Burch is more of a nuisance than a real threat, while Ghost is less a villain than a victim – one who has lashed out, for sure, but one who needs help rather than vanquishing.
This allows the filmmakers to focus on clever set pieces with all manner of shrinking contraptions and size-based gags – such as an ant playing the drums or a car chase with toy-sized cars. It also allows the filmmakers to focus on relationships and cheerful banter.
Of particular note is Scott’s old cell mate and now business partner Luis (Michael Peña), a cheerful, friendly motormouth who alternates between high anxiety over the fate of their business and childish enthusiasm over getting to help with hero stuff.
Driving the movie is the importance of family and the importance of sacrifice. Scott took a plea deal so he could be with his daughter. Hank and Hope are dedicated to finding their wife and mother.
These are people who care for each other and want the best for each other. They are prepared to take risks for each other and for the greater good – knowing that the greater good they are fighting for is represented by the people they love.
Above all else, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a fun film. It is intelligent without being overbearing, heartfelt without being saccharine, clever without being smart-alecky. It is well written, well made and well acted. It ties into the MCU without being overwhelmed by it.
Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia (FCCA).