Exactly the blockbuster movie we need right now
IF AVENGERS: Infinity War had the highest, universe-in-peril stakes you could get in a comic book movie, then Ant-Man And The Wasp is the opposite. Which is why it's exactly the Marvel movie we need right now.
The inherent strength in Ant-Man And The Wasp is that it's a small-stakes, personal superhero caper that's unconcerned with the bigger battle for the world's soul or something equally nebulous.
Here, there aren't even any real villains, only antagonists who provide conflict - no one is intent on blowing up or taking over the city, the planet or the universe. It's such a relief to not be asked to invest in something grandiose.
Instead, Ant-Man And The Wasp is a lovely, small story about family and teamwork. All it wants from you is your attention for a relatively short (by Marvel standards) 118 minutes and to have eons of fun with its thrilling action sequences, copious jokes and gags and the incredibly likeable Paul Rudd.
And because it's mostly self-contained, you don't need to have seen every one of the other 19 Marvel movies that precede it - probably just two.
The idea of a superhero that shrinks down to the size of an ant with crazy strength is undoubtedly silly so director Peyton Reed and Ant-Man And The Wasp's writers (Rudd among them) have fully embraced the preposterousness of it all.
Giant Hello Kitty Pez dispenser? Yes, please. A boss car collection that fits inside a Hot Wheels canister? Most definitely. Human-sized ants taking a bubble bath? Sure, why not.
It never takes itself too seriously, and not in that self-referential, self-conscious, snarky Deadpool way. It's much more earnest.
Set two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang (Rudd) has cut a deal with the government for the sake of his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). His house arrest is just days away from ending and he's agreed to hang up his Ant-Man suit and cut all ties with anyone in the superhero community. Any violations of those conditions and he's facing 20 years in the slammer.
His little jaunt with Captain America also exposed father-and-daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym's (Michael Douglas) superhero shenanigans and they have been fugitives ever since.
Scott's journey to and return from the quantum realm in the first Ant-Man movie has sparked in the scientists a renewed vim to find Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) who was thought lost in the space decades earlier. But Hope and Hank can't do it without Scott.
Elsewhere, a mysterious young woman known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) makes herself known to the trio when she comes after the same fancy-sounding-sciencey-thing our heroes need. Ghost can phase through solid matter but is obviously as disjointed mentally as she is physically. See if you can say "molecular disequilibrium" three times fast.
The conflict in Ant-Man And The Wasp becomes a battle between who possesses Hank and Hope's lab (which, of course, shrinks down to the size of a Barbie Dreamhouse) with the two opposing forces both needing it for their own agendas.
Also in this volatile mix is a gang of small-time crims led by Walter Goggins' Sonny Burch, Randall Park's FBI agent responsible for keeping Scott in check, Laurence Fishburne's former Pym associate Bill Foster, and Scott's ex-con friends including Michael Pena's fast-talking Luis who have set up a security consultancy business.
While the stakes are low, the care factor is high - Ant-Man And The Wasp cleverly grounds its story in personal relationships, especially between fathers and daughters. By throwing its weight behind these intimate ties, the film's emotional resonance is much stronger than if it had followed the usual path of the threat of mass destruction.
Then there's the fact that this movie highlights a superhero's support network, rather than revel in the dim view of some brooding, isolated caped crusader. Even the rest of the Avengers only hang out with other superheroes.
Scott and Hope aren't just partners in a fight - they have family, they're part of a group of people who care about them deeply and who, in their own non-powered ways, will help how they can, whether that's driving the getaway car or cheering from the sidelines.
In turn, we care about them. Scott may be the most "everyman" of the Avengers, but he's also the luckiest. Maybe that's a bit cheesy but that's the kind of mundane teamwork missing from most superhero franchises. It's the same thing that made Spider-Man: Homecoming so charming.
Ant-Man And The Wasp doesn't lionise individual sacrifice or exceptionalism - it celebrates those everyday connections and challenges we all have. So, we have a superhero movie that is actually (gasp!) relatable?
And that's the real delight in Ant-Man And The Wasp, that and all the hilarious antics, which make for a wonderfully entertaining movie.
Ant-Man And The Wasp is in cinemas from Thursday, July 5.
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