By Bob Garver
We last saw Scott “Ant-Man” Lang (Paul Rudd) in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War” where he fought on Cap’s side, lost, and went to prison. It was briefly mentioned in this year’s “Avengers: Infinity War” that he took a plea deal where he was released in exchange for promising not to do any more superhero work, making him one of the few MCU heroes not to appear in the film. Now we’re getting “Ant-Man and the Wasp”, where we find out what’s been going on in his neck of the woods. Like a response you’d expect from a laid-back casual friend, the answer is “not much.”
We join Lang as he’s just three days away from the end of his mandated house arrest. It’s not so bad – he’s had time to transform his house into a most impressive playground for his daughter. But his plans to peacefully serve out his sentence are threatened when he’s abducted by his old friend Hope (Evangeline Lilly). She and her father, the brilliant scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), have created a device that will allow them to enter the quantum realm, previously thought to be basically a death sentence, to rescue her long-lost mother (Michelle Pfeiffer). They need Lang’s help because he’s survived the quantum realm himself and because he saw the mother in a vision and might be able to pinpoint her location.
Of course there are complications. For starters, Lang can’t be away from his house or he’ll go back to prison. Also, his relationship with Hope and Hank is pretty much shot because he absconded with the Ant-Man tech in “Civil War”. More importantly, other parties want the quantum tech for themselves. A black-market tech dealer (Walton Goggins) wants it to make money, and the molecularly unstable Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) wants it to continue living. A lab accident from when she was a child causes her to fade in and out of existence, making her simultaneously vulnerable and dangerous.
An old colleague of Hank’s (Laurence Fishburne) can help her control her powers, but without energy from the quantum realm, she won’t survive much longer. It’s up to Lang, reunited with his Ant-Man suit, and Hope, donning the similar Wasp suit with very little fanfare, to keep the quantum tech from falling into the wrong hands.
Ant-Man and Wasp are of course known as small superheroes, so perhaps it’s appropriate that this is a film of small aspirations. There’s no fate-of-the-universe stakes here, it’s just a squabble over who gets to use the unproven quantum tech to save, at most, one life. That’s not the say that the characters won’t engage in fights, chases, or other action set pieces to achieve those ends, but everybody is unofficially okay with not letting the action get too far out of hand (relatively speaking, there’s still a skyscraper-sized ant suit and an actual skyscraper that can pop up at will in play). I can sort of understand the MCU wanting to go low-key with “Ant-Man and the Wasp” to balance out the enormousness of “Infinity War”, but in the process we’re losing significance. Aside from getting Ghost and the Pfeiffer and Fishburne characters into the equation, what reason does this movie really have to exist?
Part of my problem with “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is that Ant-Man is a silly superhero and we’re not far enough removed from the aggressive silliness of “Deadpool 2” (which is still in the top ten at the box office), not to mention the character’s more consequential MCU brethren in “Infinity War” (still in the top 15) for the film to feel like a breath of fresh air. This movie should have waited until, say, November, where it would have been more effective as a bridge between “Infinity War” from April and “Captain Marvel” next March. As it is, we’re getting an occasionally fun, but ultimately flimsy superhero movie that falls noticeably short of its contemporaries.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is rated PG-13 for some sci-fi action violence. Its running time is 118 minutes.