Only the Marvel Cinematic Universe would have the brass to drop two prequel movies after the devastating cliffhanger atrocity that was Avengers: Infinity War. Who the hell do they think they are? Lost? Thanos wins, please enjoy a flashback to a happier time when our heroes couldn’t be contained in a Ziploc bag.
Peyton Reed is the director Kevin Feige calls upon when the franchise needs a boost of enthusiasm. The original Ant-Man cleansed our palate post-Age of Ultron, and we were looking for a repeat. We require frequent reminders/reasons to continue with these neverending Disney phases beyond our instinctual need to know what comes next. The fate of the universe makes for a grand splash page of action, but if we don’t care about the people who populate it, then there is no point.
Ant-Man and the Wasp puts faces to the faceless. The citizens dodging debris as The Avengers clash with the Chitauri are Maggie (Judy Greer), Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), Luis (Michael Peña) and Dave (Tip “T.I.” Harris). They’re schmoes attempting to raise a family or get their business off the ground while psychotic robots transform cities into meteorites. We don’t have time for them in already overstuffed three-hour superhero epics, but it is essential that we make space for them during the cataclysm recess. Here is our Seinfeld with capes, and it’s about as close to an ants-eye view of the MCU as we’re going to get. Your comic book counterpart is not Black Widow or even Ant-Man, it’s Kurt (David Dastmalchian).
Captain America knows we’re out there bumbling about in our daily routine, but the mug he’s saving does not belong to you but the Winter Soldier next to him. Ant-Man and the Wasp have family; that’s their mission. Hawkeye gets it.
The film opens with a father explaining his greatest failing. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) confesses, “I still think about the night your mother and I had to leave you.” He enjoyed playing hero for S.H.I.E.L.D. Better yet, he enjoyed playing hero with his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). Together they thwarted diabolical dictators and various madmen hellbent on global domination. When a sacrifice was required, and Janet beat Hank to the punch, he was left with a terrible responsibility. His genius birthed his child’s misery. He extended that sin by shielding her from his crime and disappearing into his work.
Along comes Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a father with his own misguided behavior, to expose such overzealous protection as mistrust and free Hank of his poisonous relationship with his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Scott is a buffoon and probably had no business donning the Ant-Man suit in the first place, but as far as patsies went, he turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The first Ant-Man healed the division between Hank and Hope, but now the sequel has to clarify why they still need Scott around when The Wasp is so much better at kicking ass.
The central thrust of the narrative is the betrayal Scott committed in Captain America: Civil War when he flew off to Germany to punch it out with The Avengers. His previous encounter with The Falcon positioned Scott in the eyes of the superhero community as a more important figure than he actually is. Guys, he’s just a dude with access to a cool suit. While he was getting chummy with Cap, Hank and Hope received targets on their back as well. Scott cuts a deal with the government, accepting two years of house arrest, but Hank and Hope must go on the run if they’re ever going to break back into the Quantum Realm and retrieve Janet from her Microverse prison.
Scott remains necessary to the overall MCU mythology because of his connection to the Quantum Realm. In his battle with Yellow Jacket, he pulled a Janet and went subatomic. He succeeded where she failed to free herself. Scott jammed one of Hank’s Pym Particle Discs into his suit’s regulator which gave him extra oompf to re-enlarge into our world. His time below created a psychic link with Janet. Hank and Hope exploit that link to fish Janet out from the Quantum Realm, and that means busting Scott free from his house arrest just a few days before it expires.
Yes, there are bad guys to circumvent. Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) is a black market technology dealer who fancies himself a bit of a gangster. He’s happy to sell to Hope until he learns her identity and then figures Hank’s quantum research is more valuable than anything else. There is also the appearance of the Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who suffers from Molecular Disequilibrium which allows her to phase through walls but also causes chronic, agonizing pain. She believes that she can unburden herself by lethally stripping Janet of quantum energy. Both antagonists are just speedbumps compared to the genuine threat to the Lang and Pym families.
Hank and Hope risk everything to rescue Janet. Scott wants to help in that effort, but in doing so, he threatens his relationship with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). In a superhero movie where the tensest bits usually hang on the battles between the black and white good and bad, Ant-Man and The Wasp finds the height of its narrative anxiety when the FBI are closest to discovering Scott’s deception. In Peyton Reed’s tiny corner of the MCU, fathers failing daughters is the greatest felony that can be committed. You ask for genuine stakes in the Marvel Universe; here you go. Thanos snaps are devastating, but disappointing the one person in this world that idolizes you is an altogether different kind of crushing defeat.
The responsibility of Ant-Man and the Wasp is to remind audiences of the joy comic book adventures should contain and that Marvel heroes are ultimately fighting for the defenseless little guy. The MCU survives because it knows when to pull back from the apocalyptic brink. If all they had in their deck were traumatic brawls like Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, then they’d drown in miserable muck a la the first stage of the DC Extended Universe. Scott Lang’s greatest superpower is Cassie. He knows he’s the weakest link in the chain, but he’ll be damned if he breaks and permits any harm to befall her.
What Ant-Man and The Wasp Contribute to the MCU:
- Ghost – Not necessarily the bad guy but another victim of Hank Pym’s genius. Ava Starr’s father worked alongside Hank until his experiments clashed with the Pym brand. When Hank fired Papa Starr, the disgraced father traveled to Argentina to continue his flawed ideas. The result was an explosion that killed him and orphaned Ava with newfound phase abilities. S.H.I.E.L.D./HYDRA immediately weaponized her, transforming her to be a deadly assassin. I wonder if she ever scrapped with The Winter Soldier or Black Widow??? Cate Shortland, are you listening?
- Bill Foster – He’s another disgruntled colleague of Hank Pym who took Ava under his wing. While we never see it in this film, he once operated under the mantle of Goliath and is jealous of Scott’s Giant-Man heights. Let’s toss a de-aged Laurence Fishburne in the Black Widow prequel film, as well.
- Agent Jimmy Woo – In the comic books, Woo is a badass superspy in charge of the Agents of Atlas. In the film, he’s played humorously by Randall Park as a pencil pushing welp of a human. Tasked to keep tabs on Scott, he’s constantly failing to uncover Scott’s whereabouts despite many opportunities. Will we see him again? Doubtful. If we do, I hope he’s more than just the butt of a joke.
- Time Vortexes – Possibly the most significant plot element of the entire film, and it reveals itself during the mid-credits stinger. As Scott Lang dives back into the Quantum Realm to retrieve healing particles to aid Ghost, Janet warns him to avoid the Time Vortexes. Uh, what now? With the Time Stone in possession of Thanos, the Quantum Realm looks to be the battleground in which The Avengers beat the Mad Titan at his own game.
What Ant-Man and The Wasp Withholds from the MCU:
- The Pyms – For all its lighthearted celebration of family, Ant-Man and the Wasp leaves its audience on the same dusty downer as Avengers: Infinity War. Scott travels to the Quantum Realm, captures the healing particles, and calls for retrieval. Unfortunately, moments after Scott enters the Microverse, Thanos snaps his fingers, and all his pals go poof. The Avengers really could have used The Wasp, but they’ll be stuck with Ant-Man once again. How does Scott get out of the Quantum Realm and make his way to Avengers HQ? Maybe he’s got another one of those Pym Particle Discs to pop in his regulator.
- Ant-onio Banderas – Dammit! After the tragic loss of Ant-tony in the first film, we have to go through a similar pain in the sequel when one vicious seagull devours Scott’s ride. That bird’s a murderer.
The Irredeemable Ant-Man by Robert Kirkman and Phil Hester – From the co-creator of The Walking Dead! If Hank Pym thought Scott Lang was a troublesome Ant-Man, then Eric O’Grady would cause his blood to boil. When this low-level S.H.I.E.L.D. agent steals the Ant-Man suit, Eric uses its abilities for personal gain. The character is as hilarious as he is despicable, and Kirkman enjoys injecting Eric’s tiny influence into a few key Marvel events including the formation of The Mighty Avengers as well as World War Hulk. Eric is a scumbag and your enjoyment of the tale will only go as far as how much you tolerate his antics, but if you jive with his wavelength, then you’ll have plenty of sophomoric fun.
Read more from our series on the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- Day One – Iron Man is Marvel’s Villain Problem
- Day Two – The Real Civil War Began in The Incredible Hulk
- Day Three – You Can Count on Iron Man 2 to Pleasure Itself
- Day Four – The Marvel Cinematic Universe Finds its Worth in The Mighty Thor
- Day Five – Captain America is the First Selfless Avenger
- Day Six – The Avengers is Burdened with Glorious Purpose
- Day Seven – Iron Man 3 Illustrates How Subtelty Has Had its Day in the MCU
- Day Eight – Wait! Maybe Thor: The Dark World is Marvel’s Villain Problem
- Day Nine – Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the Brutality of Bromance
- Day Ten – Guardians of the Galaxy Takes the Hand of the MCU and Discovers an Awesome Mix
- Day Eleven – Avengers: Age of Ultron Pits Old Testament Against New Testament
- Day Twelve – Ant-Man Returns the Heart to the Marvel Cinematic Universe
- Day Thirteen – Captain America: Civil War and the Unforgivable Sin of Steve Rogers
- Day Fourteen – Doctor Strange and the Bargaining of Self
- Day Fifteen – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Charts the Border Between A-Hole and 100% A Dick
- Day Sixteen – Maintaining the Shame of Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming
- Day Seventeen – The Redefinition of Character in Thor: Ragnarok
- Day Eighteen – Black Panther and the Tragedy of Gatekeeping
- Day Nineteen – The Mighty Impotence of Thor in Avengers: Infinity War