We hold these truths to be self-evident: all men are created equal, war never changes, and Ant-Man is the runt of the Marvel universe. Armed with a script more bogged down in sci-fi nonsense than The Phantom Menace and its midi-chlorians, Ant-Man and the Wasp is the worst Marvel movie I’ve seen. Is it passable summer blockbuster fare? Sure. But don’t expect it to stand anywhere near as tall as its forebears in a year that has already seen the two biggest Marvel movies ever.
The plot of Ant-Man and The Wasp is convoluted at its best and eye-glazing at its worst. Back in the ’80s, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pheiffer) prevented the Soviets from going nuclear when Janet shut down a warhead by shrinking down to a sub-atomic size. Unfortunately this results in her getting stuck inside the “Quantum Realm.” Here we go. But when ex-con and all-around doofus Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) takes up the mantle of the Ant-Man years later, he journeys to the Quantum Realm and comes back intact. Somehow this results in him being mentally connected with Janet to the point that she can send him messages in his subconscious. With this knowledge, Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) kidnap Scott (who they’re on bad terms with after the events of Captain America: Civil War) and force him into helping them nab Janet from oblivion.
From the outset, I knew this was trouble. Nobody needs a super-hero movie to make sense, but at their best, these films put the focus on the human relationships between the lead and those around them before kicking up the well-paced action. Black Panther did this well, as did Spider-Man: Homecoming before it. But Ant-Man puts its meandering story front and center and attempts to fall back on slapstick comedy (which fails to register about 97 percent of the time) and an attempt at a sort of will-they, won’t they tension between Hope and Scott, who have the onscreen chemistry of a loveless couple of twenty years. Bafflingly, director Peyton Reed almost seems to want the viewer to dislike Hope and her curmudgeonly father and root for tormented villain Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who aims to upend everything so that she can use Pym’s technology to save herself after one of her father’s experiments put her on a collision course with death. That’s what I did, anyway.
Thankfully, there’s enough going on here in the background to save the film from falling over into disastrous territory. Rudd is a likable enough lead, though his constant attempts to get laughs from juvenile humor make him more of a class clown that a hero. At least, it would, if it wasn’t for his surprisingly touching relationship with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson who carries more wit than most of the cast put together), which helps keep him grounded. Surprisingly, in a movie filled with groan-inducing attempts at humor, Michael Pena soars as Luis, Scott’s buddy from prison who helps him run his hilariously titled security business “X-Con,” and manages to consistently deliver laughs in spite of himself and his castmates. But its Hannah John-Kamen as Ghost and Laurence Fishburne as her adopted father Bill Foster who steal every scene they’re in as their relationship is strained by Foster’s love for his daughter and his concern about her questionable morality as she grows increasingly desperate to save herself from her own powers. It’s a family movie so you can expect a happy ending (or can you?), but I was pulling for Reed to go all-in on John-Kamen’s darkness. He never quite gets there.
Ant-Man and The Wasp is by no means the disaster that it should have been thanks to a strong supporting cast who steals the show out from under the over-bearing main crew and keeps the movie grounded when the script seems determined to send it overboard. The action is solid, the visuals are on point and though the humor misses more than it hits, it’s probably enough to satisfy those looking for a serviceable super hero beat-em-up. But anybody looking for something deeper than these surface-level thrills (or looking forward to the promised Avengers tie-in) will find themselves out of their depth.