I’ve lost track of the number of exasperated looks that I’ve earned by asking people if they’ve watched Ant-Man.
To be fair, when he’s sharing a screen with the likes of Captain America, Iron Man and Thor, it might appear as though Marvel Studios is scraping the barrel by presenting a superhero with the ability to shrink and boss ants around.
That being said, 2015’s Ant-Man is, in my opinion, one of the gems of the now 20 film-strong Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). By recruiting comedy legend, Paul Rudd, to play Scott Lang, the former criminal-turned-miniature Avenger, director Peyton Reed crafted a fast, funny and perfectly-judged heist caper.
Three years on, its sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, has a problem.
In short, it has to find a way of following the cataclysmic ending of Avengers: Infinity War; the culmination of 10 years of universe-building and one of the biggest cinematic gut-punches since Vader declared “I am your father.”
To put it bluntly, if you’re looking for a resolution to Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp isn’t the film for you. It’s a completely self-contained adventure; more of a palate cleanser to give audiences an extra fix of the MCU while we wait with baited breath for the currently untitled Avengers: Part 4 to land in May 2019.
I’d argue though, that the film has a second, more pressing problem.
Ant-Man took audiences completely by surprise, turning a character that virtually nobody expected anything of into a fan favourite. But we’ve seen now what Ant-Man can do. He did plenty of shrinking and talking to ants around in his first outing, and we saw him grow to gigantic proportions during his brief appearance in Captain America: Civil War.
Returning to direct a sequel, the question on Peyton Reed’s mind must have been how on earth to take audiences by surprise a second time.
It’s a challenge that he approaches in a few different ways. For starters, we see how the Ant-Man technology (or Pym Particles, for those in the know) has the potential to impact the wider world. Cars, buildings and even salt and pepper shakers become unwilling objects in Scott’s crusade and I found these set pieces to be some of the most enjoyable moments of the film.
The biggest development though, is that Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne has donned the wings and wrist-blasters of the Wasp. The first female character to be given a title credit in a Marvel film, the Wasp is a welcome addition to the MCU. We were given a glimpse of Hope’s superhero potential in Ant-Man, but this around the gloves are off, as she effectively reduces Scott to the role of sidekick in most of the film’s action sequences.
We’re also introduced to a host of new characters, some of whom, such as Hannah John-Kamen’s villainous Ghost and Randall Park’s hapless Agent Woo, I’d be very happy to see return for future instalments. Others, such as Laurence Fishburne’s Bill Foster and Walton Goggins’ gangster, Sunny Burch, are more forgettable but still enjoyable additions to the line-up.
It’s not all change though, as Paul Rudd is at his hilarious best, Michael Douglas returns on fine form as the irritable scientist, Hank Pym, and Michael Pena is back as fan favourite, Luis.
In short, there’s a lot to like in Ant-Man and the Wasp, but I’d be lying if I said I thought it was perfect. There’s an awful lot of scene-setting to be waded through in the first hour, as new characters are established, timeline gaps are filled and the science of the quantum realm is endlessly discussed. Bar a couple of enjoyable action sequences, I couldn’t help feeling as though the film doesn’t really get going until the second half, when all parties converge on San Francisco for what deserves to go down as one of the best chase scenes of the year.
Likewise, considering how the story has largely been billed as the quest to rescue Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet Van Dyne from the quantum realm, I felt as though she could have done with some additional screen time. No doubt the producers are leaving their options open for future instalments, but this did feel like something of an anti-climax.
All things considered though, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a fun second outing for Marvel’s smallest heroes. Now, in the words of the God of Thunder himself, “Bring me Thanos.”
Verdict: A little anti-climactic in the wake of Avengers: Infinity War, but an enjoyable Marvel fix to tide us over until 2019