“You lost today, kid. But it doesn’t mean you have to like it.”
That, of course, is a line from the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – after young Indy, played by River Phoenix, loses a golden crucifix that once belonged to Coronado to a group of mercenaries. I’ve been thinking about that line a lot lately because world events just seem to continue to be one loss after another for humanity.
So what does this have to do with Ant-Man and the Wasp? Pretty much nothing. And that’s the point. Ant-Man and the Wasp comes to us, now, with the attitude of, “Just let us coherently entertain you, have some laughs, and forget about the outside world for the next couple of hours.” And, dammit, it does a pretty good job of doing just that. Ant-Man and the Wasp is a two-hour mental break when a lot of people could need a mental break. If this sounds like I’m being condescending to this movie at all, I promise you I am not. I mean this as a huge compliment. It’s so lighthearted and everyone in the movie is so darn pleasant and they all seem to like each other, it kind of feels like the most fictitious Marvel movie to date.
In 2015, Ant-Man came to us on the heels of Avengers: Age of Ultron, a bloated superhero movie with heavy themes that’s gotten a bad rap over the last three years. (I still think it’s pretty good!) But it served as a sort of palate cleanser from what had happened just before. After watching half the universe get snapped away in Avengers: Infinity War, now here comes Ant-Man and the Wasp to do the same kind of thing. If Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Panther are the main courses of the MCU, then Ant-Man is the gari.
The first Ant-Man was one of those kind of interesting messes that now seems a little quaint compared to something like what happened with Solo: A Star Wars Story. Edgar Wright had been developing the film for years, but there was a parting of ways and Peyton Reed replaced him. Unlike Solo, nothing had been filmed, but what was left in the script felt like a bit of a hodgepodge between the different tones of Wright and Reed. And in a weird way, it felt a little unfinished: scenes would just kind of end that felt like they should keep going. Still, Ant-Man grossed half a billion dollars and here we are now with Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Ant-Man and the Wasp shows what Peyton Reed can do with a production that is all his. (Or, at least, as much as Marvel allows any director to have ownership.) There’s nothing really edgy or cool about Ant-Man and the Wasp, it’s just this nice story filled with people who at the end of the day want to be good. (Well, other than mid-level criminal Sonny Burch, played by Walton Goggins, but even he seems harmless enough and I bet his friends say nice things about him.)
The events of Ant-Man and the Wasp take place before those of Infinity War, so when the film starts no one has been snapped out of existence. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is on house arrest for his involvement in the events of Captain America: Civil War and is now ostracized from both Evangeline Lilly (Hope van Dyne) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). But after Scott’s trip to the Quantum Realm in the first film, he’s starting to see visions of Hope’s lost mother and Hank’s lost wife, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer, who isn’t in this movie as much as you’re going to want her to be). So, the three team up again in an effort to get her back.
And that’s pretty much the entire plot of Ant-Man and the Wasp: getting Janet Van Dyne back from the Quantum Realm. Oh, sure, there are some challenges. First, a mysterious woman with supernatural powers named Ghost shows up to wreak havoc (Hannah John-Kamen), but in reality she just needs Hank Pym’s tech to cure herself of a disease. So she’s not “bad,” per se, just “desperate. And then there’s the aforementioned Sonny Burch, who’d like to steal the tech and make some money off of it – but he never feels like a real threat. But what this all does is turn Hank’s often shrunken laboratory building into the MacGuffin of the film. It’s three teams – (1) Scott, Hope and Hank; (2) Ghost and her mentor, a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne); and (3) Sonny Burch and his goons – who all keep trying to steal a miniature building from each other.
(As the box-sized building keeps changing hands, especially in the film’s final act, I kept thinking of Josh Baskin’s line in Big when he’s staring at that dumb toy of a robot that turns into a building, “What’s fun about playing with a building? That’s not any fun.” I can’t help but think that this scene was on Peyton Reed’s mind when making this movie.)
Ant-Man and the Wasp (and the title is accurate, both heroes get about the same amount of action time) is about as “stand alone” as an MCU movie can be these days (at least until one of the two post-credit scenes). Which goes back to my initial point: even in the context of the MCU, this movie is not here to make a viewer stress out, or really feel anything but “good.” And I also want to be clear, this isn’t “dumb fun where you can turn your brain off.” Your brain will very much be working because Ant-Man and the Wasp is a very clever movie. It’s just your brain will be working in a refreshing way for a couple of hours. (There’s a scene halfway through where Michael Peña has a callback to a particular trope that he does in the first film and it brings the house down. Also, every scene of dialogue between Randall Park’s FBI agent Jimmy Woo and Rudd is comedic gold. It’s like a Vaudeville routine.)
Ant-Man and the Wasp works as a nice dopamine hit to just help you take a break for a couple of hours. It’s the Calgon of MCU movies. So if the world has you down and you need a break from reality for a couple hours, Ant-Man and the Wasp is here for you.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.