NOTE: This review contains minor spoilers for the ending and Janet van Dyne
After the high stake battle for the fate of the universe in Avengers: Infinity War, it really is nice to sit down and watch a movie in this continually expanding franchise with no grand stakes or billions of lives on the line. The original Ant-Man was a movie with a delayed and troubled production, but it was a labor of love from director Peyton Reed and all involved, which focused on a father trying to be the hero his daughter saw him to be. Its sequel, helmed again by Peyton Reed, reinforces this theme of parenthood further as Scott, played by the ever wonderful Paul Rudd, pushes to still be the best example he can be for his daughter despite his circumstances and it even expands upon it further through his lack of self-interest compared to the other characters. However, while Ant-Man and the Wasp gets bolder in its use of shrinking and themes, it suffers from a rushed ending and a lackluster use of Janet van Dyne, performed by a disinterested Michelle Pfeiffer.
As the movie begins it’s already evident that it is by far the fastest paced movie in this entire franchise, moving at breakneck speed to establish Scott’s current predicament after being arrested for his actions in Captain America: Civil War, his fractured relationship with Hope and Hank, and contrasted with his now blossoming relationship with his daughter. The pacing is made even faster when two ticking clocks are established: Scott’s final day of his house arrest and saving Janet from the Quantum Realm before she’s lost forever. This faster pace actually works in the movie’s favor as it goes from scene to scene and joke to joke, however there are times that the editing suffers for it and a transition to a scene is sudden and sloppy.
What isn’t sloppy is Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne who has by far the best action set-piece in the movie, as she engages the thugs of southern criminal, Sonny Burch, played by Walton Gogginss. Unfortunately, while the rest of the car chases and Giant-Man action are entertaining in their own right, nothing ever tops this high point of action, physicality and style. Even her fight with Ghost is made a little underwhelming in comparison with no fault to Hannah John-Kamen of Killjoys fame.
When I walked out of the theater, I was actually disappointed with Ghost as a villain, but that was because I was thinking of her as strictly a villain, when she’s really a victim of circumstance. She was used all her life and is in constant pain due to her condition and is only an antagonist to our heroes out of self-preservation. However, it would have been better if this pan and suffering was shown more prominently through Hannah John-Kamen’s performance, but despite that she’s still fierce and constantly on edge in every scene she’s in, even when faced with fan favorite Michael Peña’s Luis and his storytelling antics. The humor itself is still just as silly and has as many off-beat jokes as the original, many of which even poke fun at itself and even the other movies in the franchise.
But, if there was one big fault of this movie it is Janet van Dyne herself, who’s only real presence in the movie is at the very end. She is not a character in this story, but a plot device and a poor one at that. Earlier in the movie, it is established by Hank that Janet will have been alone and afraid in the Quantum Realm for 30 years, half her life, and even Hope is trepidatious about meeting her again as she fears her mother may be a completely different person now. We’re given built up to what has become of her since her sacrifice all those years ago, but it doesn’t amount to anything. In fact, Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance of the character shows someone who is unusually calm, stable, and (emotionally) unchanged by her time in the Quantum Realm, despite being alone and seemingly having to fight for her life all these years. It really hampers what was a good story up to this point.
Regardless of the rushed ending and Janet as a character being a bit of a waste, the movie’s core theme of parenthood and self-sacrifice is prevalent through Scott Lang, Hank Pym, and even Bill Foster. Scott wants to be there for his daughter and not be separated from her again by disobeying his house arrest, but he’s driven to help Hope and Hank in saving Janet, despite the risk to himself and his relationship with Cassie, who he shares multiple heartwarming scenes that help inspire him. While mostly everyone is acting out of their own self-interest, such as Hope and Hank wanting to reunite with Janet again, Ghost wanting her pain to stop, Randall Park’s FBI agent Jimmy Woo wanting “a win” by arresting Hope and Hank, and Sonny Burch, who simply wants to steal Hank’s secrets for profit. Scott has the most to lose and least to gain in helping Hope and Hank, but he does it because it’s the right thing to do and that if he can help someone, he should, especially if its his partner and mentor with his conversation with his daughter emphasizing this as it inspires him to pursue in helping Hope and Hank save Janet, despite his mistakes and risk for himself.
Ant-Man and the Wasp doesn’t nearly reach the heights of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War, it doesn’t have to. Its themes of positive parenthood is also what helps set it apart from the rest of the universe, which seems to be plagued with terrible and irrevocably flawed parental figures. It’s small scale action and stakes are what help makes these movies stand out in this franchise and make them a riveting and heartfelt experience.