Millions of viewers who depend on Marvel movies for all their fantasy escapism needs went home shell-shocked after Avengers: Infinity War slaughtered far, far too many of their favorite heroes and threatened to turn the Marvel Cinematic Universe into just another super-hero realm of perpetual misery like Dawn of Justice or the upcoming, dreadful-looking Titans. Now, in Ant-Man and the Wasp, two heroes who weren’t invited to Thanos’ big coming-out party are here to remind everyone that there’s still hope to be found in this world, along with heroism, teamwork, and happy endings…as long as you don’t stay for the end credits.
Short version for the unfamiliar: Paul Rudd returns as titular super-shrinker Scott Lang, stuck on house arrest after his airport-smashing antics in Captain America: Civil War got him in trouble with multiple governments. He tries to behave for the sake of his cute li’l daughter Cassie (a returning Abby Ryder Fortson), but finds himself tempted back into the illegal super-life when he’s technically kidnapped by previous movie colleague Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly, eager to win her own fight scenes) and her scientist dad, OG Ant-Man Dr. Henry Pym (Michael Douglas). Hope now has her own micro-power-suit and calls herself the Wasp, but she and Dad need Scott’s help even though they can’t stand him.
When last we left Our Hero in the original Ant-Man, the climax of his big fight with Yellowjacket culminated in a side trip to the quantum realm, where everything’s subatomic and kaleidoscopic and wacky and disturbing and looks like old Steve Ditko Dr. Strange comics. Without knowing or realizing it till this movie, Scott’s 30-second fantastic journey into Quantum-Land quantum-linked him through quantum-magic to quantum refugee Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) — Pym’s wife, Hope’s mom, the original Wasp. Janet’s been trapped in quantum limbo for thirty years, and the family believes Scott may be her quantum-ticket to freedom.
One snag, among several: another superhuman needs quantum help, too. A phasing villain nicknamed the Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen, also antagonistic in Ready Player One) wants Pym’s quantum technology because she has her own quantum worries: a freak accident in her childhood killed her parents (for which she blames Pym) and gave her quantum powers, but at a price — her increasingly unstable quantum body is about to dissolve into so much quantum dust. Thus Pym’s entire lab — which still shrinks into a handy quantum carryall, per the first film — becomes our quantum MacGuffin and the focus of multiple merry chases.
Can either woman be saved from death by quantumocity? All they know for sure is, everything’s coming up quantum!
Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: Meanwhile in the background, Scott’s old reformed burglar crew returns with their very own security company that Scott’s supposed to help them launch. Back in the game are rapper T.I., David Dastmalchian (who appeared on The Flash last year as Abra Kadabra), and scene-stealer Michael Pena as Luis, the happy-go-lucky motormouth who should be allowed to narrate all the Marvel movies. Also back are Judy Greer as Cassie’s mom and Bobby Cannavale as Officer Friendly Stepdad.
Newcomers include the Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Bill Foster, an old colleague of Pym’s who got out of the size-changing life after they had a falling-out. (In the comics, Foster was a hero in his own right named Goliath. Well, um, originally “Black Goliath”. Because at the time adjectiveless “Goliath” had already been taken by Hawkeye when he got tired of archery and needed a change of pace. So “Black Goliath” made sense as a second-string hero name in the 1970s. And then time moved on and that’s never mentioned here at all, and probably won’t come up in any sequels. Ever.)
Because every film needs a bad guy who’s just bad for bad’s sake, professional bad-guy actor Walton Goggins (Justified, Hateful Eight, Predators, like a thousand other things) steps in as a black-market tech dealer who also sets his sights on the Pym Lab MacGuffin. As if we didn’t have enough good/bad angles, there’s also an antagonistic good guy in the form of FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park, star of TV’s Fresh Off the Boat), who’s tasked with ensuring Scott doesn’t violate house arrest, which of course gets tricky because it’s hard to chase MacGuffins without leaving the house. It could’ve been worse — in the comics, Jimmy Woo was an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
In smaller roles, Michael Cerveris (the Observer from Fringe) is Ghost’s father in flashback, and indie rock drummer Jon Wurster (Superchunk, Mountain Goats) is one of Goggins’ driving henchmen. Fun music trivia useful only to myself: Cerveris and Wurster have each played with Bob Mould in different eras. As a longtime Mould fan I hereby declare Ant-Man and the Wasp one of the Top 5 Marvel films in world history on very good music principle.
Oh, and Stan Lee cameos as a bystander who loses his car and can’t believe his own eyes. This is too depressingly symbolic of the past several months of his life, so let’s move on.
Meaning or EXPLOSIONS? It’s all about family, and mostly their reunions. Hank and Hope desperately want Janet back from her stint as a three-decade castaway, and have to decide how far they’ll go to get her. Scott has just a few days left on his house arrest and really wants to spend his father/daughter visitations anywhere but home, to say nothing of the job waiting for him with his now-legit crew — a different sort of family, but equally accepting of him despite his frequent questionable choices and idiot mistakes.
Cassie and Luis are willing to wait for Scott to come by his freedom honestly, but he’s torn by the situation at hand. The Pyms need his help now before the quantum clock runs out and Janet is quantum-stranded forever, but he’s hampered by a dumb anti-super-hero law that presumably won’t be abolished till the end of Avengers 4. (The part where he helped trash a German airport doesn’t help.) Some lying becomes necessary, but only to the authorities who enforce the dumb anti-super-hero law. Not once does he lie to Cassie or Luis. So he has a moral compass, but sometimes he holds it too close to trouble magnets.
Meanwhile on the other side, Dr. Foster acts as Ghost’s de facto guardian in lieu of her dead parents. He’s not a bad guy at all, but has to work overtime to keep Ghost somewhere close to the straight-and-narrow path. Her options aren’t as clear-cut to her — instead of growing up in an evil orphanage, her fate was worse: she was raised to become a super-spy and occasional strategic assassin by a secret organization whose name rhymes with “F.I.E.L.D.” It’s Foster’s job, then, to help her overcome her shady past and make choices that won’t condemn her for life, if she can even find a way to keep on living. His presence is especially crucial at one junction when she threatens to step too far over to the Dark Side and turn this into a DC film.
Otherwise…this flick is all about nifty fights, car chases, and otherdimensional quests, all augmented to various degrees by things beginning with “quantum”, which are everywhere. Returning director Peyton Reed and five credited writers (including Rudd himself) have a ball mixing up the usual super-hero set pieces with random shrinking and growing, sometimes to the wrong heights at the worst possible moments. Much slapstick ensues, as do largely seamless visual effects that jazz up the super-heroics with cartoon zing. A chase through the streets of San Francisco sees Our Hero using a flatbed truck as a skateboard, while Wasp turns any and every handheld object — salt shakers, Pez Dispensers — into a humongous weapon.
Nitpicking? It’s not much of a spoiler to confirm that Michelle Pfeiffer’s Janet figures prominently into Act Three, but thirty years of quantum solitude and unwritten adventures have turned nearly everything about and around her into so much inexplicable science-magic. Janet has no time for storytelling or explanations, and instead spends her time performing jaw-dropping super-deeds that do whatever the many-cooks screenplay needs her to do to move everyone closer to the happy ending. We can trust all will be explained in due time, but for now a lot of it feels like cheating.
Given that Civil War had a direct, adverse effect that steers much of Ant-Man and the Wasp, which in turn is a direct prequel to next May’s Avengers: Infinity Funeral Services, if Ant-Man is lucky enough to keep headlining more films, it’s an old-fashioned shame to realize years in advance that future generations won’t be able to sit down and enjoy a straight marathon of just Ant-Man movies unless they include the unwieldy crossovers that are 97% not about him or Hope.
So what’s to like? Just as some TV shows like to follow up their heaviest episodes with lighter digressions for contrast and for the sake of the audience’s mental health, so does Ant-Man and the Wasp arrive at the properly scheduled time as an antidote to the carnage of Infinity War and as a perfectly entertaining super-hero romp for younger fans and traditionalists alike. Lilly and Rudd build a stronger chemistry as begrudging repartee slowly gives way to camaraderie. Douglas and Pfeiffer, A-listers from my childhood who’ve never acted together before, both still “got it”. Everyone on hand is fun, really, from Goggins’ occasionally clever ringleader to li’l Cassie (with her own words of wisdom to share with Dad) to that lovable Luis, who at the very least needs his own Marvel sitcom.
Even Scott mocks the overuse of “quantum”, but if you’re cool with grokking Star Trek: The Next Generation science-babble in every other scene and a lack of grim world destruction, Ant-Man and the Wasp is the sort of reassuring, even inspiring explosion-filled costume drama we need right now.
If you turn off the movie as soon as the credits roll.
How about those end credits? One bit of trivia I noticed in there: whereas flashbacks with Douglas and Pfeiffer use makeup and de-aging CG to render them into their respective primes, Fishburne’s younger self is instead played by his son Langston Fishburne, an actor in his own right.
But to answer the burning question that MCC is usually happy to verify: yes, there is indeed a scene during the Ant-Man and the Wasp end credits, along with a second scene at the very end after the final names have dropped. For those who fled the theater prematurely and who really want to know without seeing it a second time…
[insert space for courtesy extra-strength spoiler alert in case anyone needs to abandon ship]
…during the credits: Hank, Hope, and Janet prepare to launch Scott back into the subatomic quantum dimension once more in hopes of making more headway into the “quantum healing” magical gobbledygook that Janet used to stabilize Ghost’s body. Scott is launched subatomically forthwith and lobs a few one-liners into his headset mike while he’s floundering around the Quantum Zone, only to grow concerned when Team Shrinkage stops responding.
Back on normal-sized Earth…Hank, Hope, and Janet have vanished. A trail of dust drifts in the air where they once stood.
Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet have struck again. To be continued in Avengers: Infinity Punching or whatever.
Minutes later after the credits have finished: cut to Scott’s house, mostly empty except for one still-embiggened ant whaling away on the hallway drum kit. From the living room TV, the distinct drone of the Emergency Broadcast System pierces the air, but no one is around to heed the signal.
One final black screen assures us, “ANT-MAN AND THE WASP WILL RETURN.” Spoilers, then, for Avengers: Infinity Resurrections.