I suppose it was inevitable. At some point, there was going to be a misfire in Marvel Studios’ Phase Three. Just as it wraps up, here it is: the disappointing and decidedly mediocre Ant-Man and the Wasp.
More than anything else, Peyton Reed’s sequel suffers from its link to the franchise proper. The first film was entertaining if slight, with its only substantive link to the wider MCU a quickly-forgotten action sequence at Avengers headquarters. Civil War ever so briefly gave us the Ant-Man we really wanted: quippy, powerful, pure Paul Rudd. But in retrospect, it made very little sense that Scott Lang – a character who spent the entirety of his origin movie trying to escape his criminal past – would break the law to support a superhero he barely knew.
Ant-Man and the Wasp has to contend with that character inconsistency while also retroactively justifying why we didn’t see Scott in Infinity War (the events of which occur after this film). That’s a lot to shoulder for a light, comedic spinoff from the MCU-verse, and the screenplay buckles under the pressure. Ant-Man – at least, this version of the character – is at his best when he gets to embody Rudd’s irreverent energy. This overwritten script – from five credited writers, including Rudd – burdens him with a fiddly storyline filled with videogame-esque subquests driven by narrative necessity rather than character.
Rejoining Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), now boasting her own super-suit, Scott finds his last few days of house arrest complicated by the quantum realm and the search for the original Wasp, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). That’s a good hook to hang the movie in, even if Scott – who’s been estranged from his one-time mentor and part-time lover since the events of Civil War – isn’t entirely invested in the proceedings. This necessitates some fiddly plotting with a lot of scientific mumbo-jumbo: something about the quantum realm and Scott’s entanglement with Janet that ensures he’s obliged to be along for the ride. We’re also introduced to some minor antagonists – the unstable and imperilled Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) and blackmarket tech dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) – though there’s no one Big Bad to dominate proceedings.
While I’d argue Marvel’s had a villain problem in the past, it’s the absence of a villain here that becomes a problem. Rather than a coherent, ongoing narrative defined by a single obstacle to be overcome, our miniaturised hero has to jump through a series of increasingly arbitrary hoops. When the film is just allowed to settle into its groove – and, say, let Michael Peña do his thing – it holds your interest, but I find myself bored with the overcooked intricacies of the storyline less than halfway through. It’s not that there are no stakes; there are too many different stakes and I wasn’t invested in any of them.
This comes to a head with an imaginative, San Francisco-set third act that, while entertaining, relies heavily on contrivances to create any kind of tension. Neither Ghost (who’s impeded by inconsistent powers and chronic pain) nor Sonny (who’s basically a gussied-up goon) offer any kind of plausible threat to Ant-Man, so instead he’s hampered by a faulty suit that earns a couple of laughs but denies us the superheroic power fantasy we’re here for. Finally, the film ends in a place that allows it to co-exist with the events of Infinity War, but never manages to justify its own existence.