Just a couple months after changing the entire landscape of their cinematic universe, Marvel returns with the first film in the aftermath in the form of Ant-Man and the Wasp.
And by aftermath, I meant that this film takes place before the events of Infinity War, and none of that comes into play.
It was initially disappointing to hear that this film, while releasing following the latest Avengers bombshell, it would take place chronologically before it- taking place a couple of years after the events of Civil War. Seeing Ant-Man and the Wasp try to establish some form of order as well as coming to grips with their new reality in which half of the population of the world had completely disappeared would have made for a very different and very entertaining film. It could also have severed to further enforce the gravity of what Thanos had accomplished in establishing this new world order of chaos and calamity with half of the world now turned to dust.
With that expectation unceremoniously dashed, I quickly rebounded with the knowledge that Scott Lang as Ant-Man would be one of the most important people in the entire universe in terms of undoing what Thanos had been able to accomplish thanks to his ability to access quantum magic. Remember?
Now eager to see what awaited the future of the MCU by bouncing into the past for a bit, I entered Ant-Man and the Wasp with newfound hopes and expectations that I would be one step closer to understanding what the conclusion to this grand adventure the MCU has been on. While I did not get nearly as much of that as I would have liked, I still walked away the same as I always do with an MCU film: satisfied.
Like its predecessor, this film follows a massive Avengers film and serves the role as a bit of a pallet-cleanser. Coming in the wake of Age of Ultron, the first Ant-Man was a return to a smaller scaled film that was more streamlined and focused on a simple narrative: a heist. Ant-Man and the Wasp serves a similar function and accomplishes its role in a slightly different way than the first.
This sequel is not quite as funny as the first film. Much of that can be attributed by the complete absence of Edgar Wright from the project. While he did not finish the film, he had a major part in the production of Ant-Man and his impact on the final product is easy to notice. Wright is a terrific comedic director and has a knack for timing, camera work and editing that requires a lot of comedic instinct to pull of properly.
Payton Reed, who took over directing after Wright left the project, has similar experience with directing comedic films, though with not as much renown as Wright. His last feature length film prior to Ant-Man was Yes Man back in 2008, and most of his experience has been derived from directing television shows. As a result, while still funny, Ant-Man and the Wasp is still quite funny, and is able to deliver more fun comedic moments than many other Marvel films, plus Paul Rudd as Scott Lang is the perfect vessel for these moments, giving both Ant-Man films a much lighter tone than some other films within the MCU- right up there with the two Guardians of the Galaxy films. Unfortunately, without that extra tough from Edgar Wright, this one cannot quite deliver the same memorable scenes that the first film could, and there is nothing as memorable as those stories told by Luis, played by Michael Peña.
However, by virtue of having one director throughout its production, this second Ant-Man films feels tighter than the first one. It has a more consistent pacing and in general feels more like the work of one person. What also benefits form this is the antagonist. Ghost is a very interesting foil to both Ant-Man and the Wasp physically, as she is able to things that are fundamentally similar to them. Ant-Man and Wasp are able to use their size manipulation to get a leg up in a confrontation. Constantly alternating between being normal sized and small makes them a difficult target to hit, while also giving them access to unique angles and ways for them to take on their opponent. Ghost does the same thing in principle, though instead utilizing a sort of phase-shifting over size manipulation. She is able to render herself intangible, causing opponents hits to pass straight through her. The most important aspect of all of this, is that it set up for some very interesting fight choreography and action set pieces. Seeing these three characters either all participate in a single exchange, or seeing them individually go take on other challenges in their own ways made for some very entertaining moments in the film, and some of the best and most unique battles in the MCU. The creativity and ingenuity of these scenes help this film stand over many other films within the MCU.
Combining this with the shrinking of Ant-Man and Wasp creates some of the best sequences and choreographed fights Marvel has to offer.
The only area in which the antagonist really lacked was in her motivation and desperation. Her ability to phase shift is of her own- she does not need an enhanced suit to accomplish this as Ant-Man and Wasp do. Unfortunately, this is also leading to her body to fall apart, and she enters the film with only a few weeks or even a few days left before she completely disappears. This sets up her need to acquire technology from Hank Pym, who has been dabbling in quantum tomfoolery since the previous film. He wants to use this as a means of rescuing his wife, the previous Wasp from the quantum realm, while Ghost wants to use it to repair herself. All of this motivation is fine, except that she never gives off the impression that she is truly desperate.
The character claims to be in pain, but we can never see that, and other than some very interesting (and at times very excellent) visual effects of her body existing in almost multiple places at the same time, we never really see the impact of this power on her body. Some visual decay of her body, and more apparent impacts of this pain and impending doom on her psyche would have gone a long way toward making her a more effective and sympathetic villain. Instead, we kind of get the impression that she could have been convinced to wait a few minutes to go through with her plan, and everything would have been alright. She never got to the point where it would have been impossible for her to behave rationally due to the condition of both her body and her mind; she just kind of seemed impatient. Ghost is still a quality villain, which is more than could be said of the previous Ant-Man film as well as some others in the MCU, but she is not quite up to the standard that Marvel has been setting with the past handful of films.
Overall, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a very solid Marvel film (coming in at No. 9 on Mad Prophets fool-proof and completely unchallenged raking of the MCU films), and also one of the most independent ones. Other than a few mentions of Captain America (often from characters wanting to make fun of Lang) there is almost nothing connection this to other films within the MCU. With many characters sharing time with the titular heroes in other MCU films (Hell, Iron Man and Hulk are straight up on the Spider-Man and Thor movie posters respectfully) this one has seemingly as little to do with the larger cinematic universe of them all…until you get to the first end credits scene.
The first end credit scene sees two generations of Ant-Men and Wasps taking part in an experiment to enter the quantum real and bring back some of its energy to engage or more quantum-magic-shenanigans. Scott is the sent into, or perhaps shrunken into the quantum and fills a canister full of quantum energy meant to be used to heal Ghost…I think. But when he is ready to be brought back to normal size, he suddenly can’t get ahold of any of the others on the radio: they have all been turned to dust by Thanos. Now we are back to the present day, and Ant-Man is stuck in the quantum realm gathering quantum energy. Fortunately, the original Wasp lays down some not so subtle foreshadowing when she basically shouts to the audience, “MAKE SURE YOU AVOID ANY TIME PORTALS” in a dramatic recreation of Egon telling the other not to cross the streams. SO we can guess that Ant-Man is going to travel through time with his thermos of quantum jelly and somehow end up saving everyone in the entire universe, for after all, he is our new god.