Kernel Rating: 4 out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 118 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 12+. The Ant-Man franchise seems to exist a bit outside of the overall Marvel “Avengers” universe—the characters from this film do interact with others, as in “Civil War,” but their issues are more personal than gargantuan, world-ending stakes. As a result, there are no gigantic battle scenes in this film and no large-scale, universe-threatening danger, but there is some violence, including hand-to-hand combat and a character who can essentially go through others and harm their organs by touching them inside their bodies. There is also the possibility of getting lost in the “quantum realm,” which is pictured as floating in nothingness, and that may be a bit scary for younger viewers. Also some cursing and insults, some bathroom humor, some kissing, gigantic ants running around doing things like taking baths and playing drums, and discussions about parents who go to prison and how that affects their children.
The first ‘Ant-Man’ film was both funny and fun, a nice change of pace from the otherwise often dire nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The sequel ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ is another respite, a fast-moving, cleverly written follow-up that offers up consistent laughs, refreshingly low-stakes, and plenty of sight gags.
By Roxana Hadadi
In most Marvel films, the whole world is ending, but the two Ant-Man films—both the 2015 original and now its sequel, “Ant-Man and the Wasp”—have been successful because of how they shrink down those gargantuan issues into more personal problems that affect the characters deeply but individually. A young girl grows up with a mother lost, unable to be retrieved from “quantum space,” after she saves millions of innocent people from a missile attack. Another young girl has to face the possibility that her beloved father may go back to prison. And a group of ex-convicts struggles to start the next chapter of their lives by opening up a small business that relies on their previously illegal skills.
Those are pretty everyday issues (take out the “quantum space” from the first subplot, and you’re left with a fairly common absent-parent scenario), and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” works so well because the script makes us feel deeply for the people living in the shadow of these problems. It’s very funny, and the sight gags with shrinking and expanding cars make chase scenes extra-exciting, and Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly have amusingly snarky chemistry together. But fundamentally “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is successful because of its focus on parents and children, how losing the former shapes the entire identity of the latter, and that very personal concentration and how it is applied to three different young girls in the film gives the film a strong sense of morality and intimacy.
But it’s funny! It’s also very funny. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” begins two years after the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” in which Scott Lang (Rudd) took the Ant-Man suit created by one-time superhero Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, of “And So It Goes”), joined the battle in Germany, and ends up violating the Sokovia Accords, creating after the events of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” Under house arrest for two years while Pym and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Lilly, of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”) are on the run for being superheroes, Lang is nearing the end of his team wearing an ankle monitor and building elaborate play areas for his daughter inside his house when Pym and van Dyne re-enter his life.
They’re devoted to one purpose: building a machine that can take them to the “quantum realm,” the space where Lang was almost lost in the first film, and in which Pym’s wife and van Dyne’s mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer, of “Dark Shadows”) has been stuck for decades. They think that Lang may have some message from Janet because of the time he spent there with her, and while they complete their laboratory, they need his help.
But what they don’t expect is for their black market technology dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins, of “Tomb Raider”) to take an interest in what they’re building, or that another mysterious figure who they nickname Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen, of “Ready Player One”) will be interested in stealing their laboratory for her own ends. With the power to “phase” through things, passing through objects and people, Ghost is a formidable adversary who can match all of van Dyne’s considerable skills. And although she wants their laboratory for herself, her motivations aren’t really evil—and her past tragedies are quite similar to what Pym and van Dyne have experienced, too.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is commendable for how it refuses to really paint anyone as a pure villain; the only characters who are truly presented as irredeemable are those whose corruption or greed cause them to hurt others, like Burch. Otherwise, each character gets a chance to be a better person, and while it’s all hilariously presented—Michael Peña as Luis, arguing with a bad guy about truth serum before spinning a whole tale about Lang and van Dyne’s relationship, or van Dyne and Lang going undercover at an elementary school to retrieve something, with Lang stuck at child size—there’s a lot of humanity here.
There are also a lot of solid action sequences (the first fight between Ghost and van Dyne is a whirlwind of changing sizes, “phasing” effects, and visual trickery), a nice self-awareness captured by Lang’s running commentary (“Do you guys just put the word ‘quantum’ in front of everything?” he wonders at a meeting between Pym and an old ally), and the idea expressed by numerous characters that “trying to help people isn’t dumb.” Like so many other Marvel films, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” lasts a little too long and tacks on a couple too many endings. But it’s often hilarious and big-hearted, and as the last Marvel Cinematic Universe film coming out this year, it upholds the shared universe’s dual tenets of cleverness and compassion.
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