Film Review: ‘Ant-Man and The Wasp’ Puts Women Front and Center in the MCU

One thing that sets Marvel’s cinematic universe apart from other superhero films is that it tries to include at least a certain level of consequence. When the Avengers destroyed New York City by trying to save it, their actions inadvertently led to Adrian Toomes taking up the name Vulture and terrorizing Spider-Man seven years later.

When the Avengers destroyed Sokovia while trying to save it, their actions sparked the Sokovia Accords and led the heroes into a civil war.

And when Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) agreed to join Captain America in that Civil War, he ended up having to choose between taking a plea deal and becoming a fugitive. He chose the deal so that he wouldn’t have to leave behind his daughter, Cassie.

Ant-Man and The Wasp” picks up two years later, with three days to go on Lang’s house arrest. The deal he accepted involved two years of house arrest and three years of probation. During that time, he is not allowed to have any contact with anyone known to be in violation of the Sokovia Accords. And because Scott has always been kind of a slacker, house arrest agrees with him. At least to a degree. He is literally confined to only his San Francisco townhouse. Setting one foot off the property immediately beckons the FBI to his door. He finds ways to while his time, although he can smell freedom.

And with just three days to go, fugitives Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) show up and risk everything. It turns out that when Ant-Man went subatomic a few years ago, he made a connection with Pym’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), who, they surmise, may still be “in there.”

It’s not made clear exactly where this subatomic level is, but that’s not really what’s important here.

Hank and Hope have a secret research lab where they are constructing a tunnel to access this subatomic level. They have a connection to a criminal, Sonny Birch (Walter Goggins), that can get them things for a whole lot of money. But a meeting goes awry when he wants more than just a sackful of cash. And it goes further off the rails when someone else shows up to steal the very equipment Hope is attempting to buy.

Which is when Hope unveils our first real look at The Wasp. Her fight with Birch’s minions is exciting, inventive, and even induces a few earned laughs. But once a mysterious Ghost gets involved, all quantum layers and walking through walls, the action really gets intense.

After years of Marvel flatly refusing to provide much in the way of good female characters (besides Black Widow), it seems like perhaps they’re trying to prove they got the message. Yes, “Captain Marvel” is coming next year, and yes, she is the first MCU heroine to get a standalone film. But they really meant it when they titled this one “Ant-Man AND The Wasp.” Because both Hope and her alter-ego play vital roles in this story. Really, in some ways, Ant-Man is almost superfluous. But he’s still fun to keep around, and he doesn’t cause too much unnecessary trouble.

Marvel hints they might have been listening, too, with Ghost. Hannah John-Kamen plays the new nemesis, whose real name is Ava. Unlike a traditional Sonny Birch villain, Ava’s motives are pure even if her actions are not. She isn’t after Pym’s technology for money or power. Instead, she simply wants to save her own life after a childhood accident left her body torn between dimensions. She is a formidable foe, terrifying because she literally has nothing to lose. And yet, you kind of want her to win, as well. And that is another lesson Marvel seems to have learned: villains are much more interesting when you can—at least kind of—see their point.

A few familiar faces pop up in the story. While Scott has been on house arrest, he spends a lot of time with Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). He’s also become friends with his ex-wife, Maggie (Judy Greer), and her husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale). The type of friends that hug. A lot. To the degree that even Scott thinks is a bit excessive. He isn’t going to complain, though, since it’s better than the alternative.

We also catch up with Scott’s partners in crime, Luis (Michael Peña), Dave (Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris), and Kurt (David Dastmalchian). They have cleaned up their act and gone legitimate, starting a security company. Because who is better equipped to run a security company than a group of ex-cons?

There are a few other newcomers to the franchise. Laurence Fishburne plays Dr. Bill Foster. He is a former partner of Hank’s, and now a professor at a prestigious, unnamed university. He provides an interesting link between the Hank Pym we know now, and the Hank Pym of thirty years ago. The man we really don’t know at all. Fishburne is a welcome addition, although it would have been nice to see more of him. His few scenes are entertaining and informative. He provides some added emotional heft to the story in unexpected ways.

Also joining the fun is Randall Park as FBI Agent Jimmy Woo. His obsession with getting Scott behind bars is good for some comic relief. He is the type of man who just wants a win in any way he can get one, and he has chosen to focus on locking up Ant-Man. It’s one of those sad obsessions where you can’t help but feel kind of sorry for the dorky cop. After all, he doesn’t realize how much of a dork he really is. It is a largely thankless role that might have gone completely without notice if it had been played by anyone besides the affable Park.

“Ant-Man and The Wasp” is the twentieth film in the MCU. What director Peyton Reed accomplishes here may not quite rise to the level of, say, Taika Waititi’s “Thor: Ragnarok.” But it isn’t trying to. Ant-Man is no Thor, and never will be. And for that, this film rests comfortably, somewhere in the middle. But in a series with very few misses, that’s a pretty good place to land.

“Ant-Man and The Wasp” will be in theaters on July 6.

GRADE: (★★★½)