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The Marvel Cinematic Universe landed in a dark place following the debut of Avengers: Infinity War. With roughly half of the MCU dead or disintegrated after the devastation unleashed by Thanos (Josh Brolin) and the Infinity Stones, many audiences needed something to cleanse their palates and level out the tone. Luckily, that's what Peyton Reed's Ant-Man and The Wasp accomplishes, as the sequel rises above its rough-around-the-edges plot to deliver some solid laughs and action that capitalizes on the foundation laid by Reed's first Ant-Man.
Ant-Man and The Wasp picks up two years after Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) enlisted Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to help him take on Team Iron Man during the events of Captain America: Civil War. Managing to get himself a plea deal resulting in home arrest instead of an extended stint inside of The Raft prison, Scott lives life separated from his former hero comrades. With a bored Scott approaching the end of his time stuck in an ankle monitor, he suddenly finds himself forced to team up with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) when Hank realizes that Scott's time in the Quantum realm during the events of the first Ant-Man could hold the key to bringing back his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), who went subatomic decades earlier. From there, the trio embarks on a dangerous mission that brings them into contact with Hank's former associate Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne) and up against career criminal Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and an enhanced assassin named Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who can phase through walls.
Right off the bat, the most natural thing to note and praise about Ant-Man and The Wasp is the fact that the folks behind the movie have recognized what worked about the first film and dialed those qualities up to eleven as a result. Stripping away the trappings of the heist and origin story formats that sometimes bogged Ant-Man down, Ant-Man and The Wasp is a decidedly bolder film that embraces humor and heart in an even more substantial way. We get more laughs, we get more high-concept sci-fi action, and we go even deeper into the Quantum Realm -- which, as it turns out, is arguably the most visually interesting concept that Marvel has ever committed to film.
One notable way in which Ant-Man and The Wasp accomplishes this is by offering up a conflict that's notably different from the good vs. evil battles that we have seen in many of the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. Marvel appears to have learned from the shortcomings of Corey Stoll's Yellowjacket in the first Ant-Man, as the sequel very much avoids treading into similar territory. Yes, there are heroes and villains, but the danger of bringing Janet van Dyne back from the Quantum Realm is the real antagonist of the story.
In fact, Ghost continues Phase 3's trend of offering up compelling Marvel villains who aren't merely bad for the sake of being bad, and her motivations throughout the story make plenty of sense. Moreover, while Walton Goggins is a broad villain in the most traditional sense, the actor embraces camp and sometimes feels more akin to Yosemite Sam than someone with the menace of The Winter Soldier. That's what this movie ultimately feels like: a fun Saturday morning cartoon, and it's at its best when it goes all-in on that idea.
On the heroic side of things, it's hard to pinpoint exactly which member of the Ant-Man and The Wasp ensemble deserves the most praise. Paul Rudd continues to show that he's perfectly cast as Scott Lang, delivering heart and humor as the bumbling-yet-brilliant thief-turned-hero. In a franchise filled will bravado and machismo, Rudd proudly stands alongside Tom Holland's Spider-Man as a uniquely engaging protagonist who makes sensitivity and vulnerability cool.
Of course, there is still plenty of badass superheroism to go around in Ant-Man and The Wasp, but the real standout in that sense is Evangeline Lilly's Hope van Dyne, who finally gets to don The Wasp suit teased at the end of the first film. At one point in the movie, Hope claims that her involvement in Captain America: Civil War would've prevented Scott from going to prison, and given how insanely cool she is in the film's action sequences, it's hard not to believe her, as well as wish she'd been around during the famous airport fight. Couple her ass-kicking with the scene-stealing comedy chops of Michael Pena's Luis (he's the clear comedic standout this time around), and you get a movie that will satisfy viewers old and young.
That same level of freshness also extends to Ant-Man and The Wasp's set pieces, which ramp up the insanity seen in the first movie. We still get plenty of the same old (and undeniably impressive) Pym Particle fights in this movie, but the sequel also makes the most of the respective abilities of Scott Lang, Ghost, and Hope van Dyne to showcase some amazing fights. The return of Giant Man (a concept that debuted in Civil War) is one obvious element to watch out for, but it's the scenes in which Scott's suit malfunctions that provide some of Ant-Man and The Wasp's trippiest moments.
These improvements come with their drawbacks, however, as Ant-Man and The Wasp does not have the cleanest storytelling in the MCU's canon. A lot of exposition is needed to carry the film between its fantastic set pieces, which leads to a lot of monologuing and flashbacks to get the audiences up-to-speed on the narrative. The result is a story that sometimes feels secondary to the spectacle, and while that doesn't break Ant-Man and The Wasp by any means, it does make the story feel not quite as clean as the more formulaic arc of the first movie.
Additionally, Ant-Man and The Wasp also has several moments in which it feels like it rushes through story points that could've used more explanation. Several of the film's conflicts lean hard on deus ex machina to save our heroes in their hour of need, for a movie this visually spectacular and inventive, it's surprising to see the number of simple plot holes that are glossed over and waved away with a minimal amount of thought.
That's everything that we can say about the film itself, but no review of Ant-Man and The Wasp would be complete without addressing what comes after the main story ends. Like every other entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man and The Wasp features post-credits scenes to provide some insight into the Ant-Man world and show us where all of this is heading. That said, Ant-Man and The Wasp also deserves unique credit for having one of the best, most unexpected, and downright cool post-credits scenes that the MCU has ever delivered. Don't rush out of the theater, folks; stay and see what's coming.
Ant-Man and The Wasp is bolder, funnier, and far more daring than the film that preceded it, but also slightly less even and narratively tight. The second solo adventure for the Marvel Cinematic Universe's shrinking heroes is far from perfect, but you'll have so much fun watching it that you will likely find yourself readily willing to forgive the imperfections when they rear their heads.