Few things are more irritating than having to play follow up to a person or thing that is a roaring success. Plenty of people have had to speak at a wedding after the person before them had the room in either tears or side splitting laughter and they will all agree that that's just not fair. This is certainly the case for Ant-Man and the Wasp, having to follow up the gangbusters movie phenomenon that was/is Avengers Infinity War. It's easy to see the uphill battle that this movie has to go through. The stakes are smaller, the scope narrower and the set up comes from two films as opposed to the entire MCU canon and the fans have a LOT less to look forward to with this film.
The first Ant-Man was a surprisingly good film that everyone was betting would unseat Thor: The Dark World as the worst film thus made by Marvel. Instead it was a charming and fun romp of a film that played with the shrinking shtick in funny and inventive ways while having some genuine heart. Sure it didn't impact the MCU landscape the way that films like Black Panther or Doctor Strange would go on to do but it was a solid origin movie and a delightful surprise.
Really that's all we were hoping for/expecting from the eventual sequel. More Wasp being expertly played by Evangeline Lilly, more Martin Sheen being the aged egomaniac that fits an older Hank Pym so perfectly, and loads more Paul Rudd being his charming and hilarious self. In short, a fun romp where the cost of failure is weighed on a few characters and their personal lives.
That is to Infinity War what a lollipop is to a steak dinner. Hell, after Infinity War there was a real concern about how and where this film would fit into the MCU timeline and if its plot would be in any way affected by the fallout of Infinity War.
So what did we get?
Honestly, exactly what we wanted and I for one am grateful. Let me be clear, I'm not some contrarian saying that Avengers Infinity War was too bleak a movie or is overhyped. I adore that film and the pay off it gave to fans who have been following the Marvel releases. But after spending months constantly reminded of the failures and fatalities of these heroes along with half of all life, we needed something lighter. This is especially true if the indicators for Captain Marvel being a more serious space epic hold true. We need a break from the adrenaline rush now and then to be able to better appreciate the moments when our adrenaline is supposed to spike. It's on that point that Ant-Man and the Wasp is a success. It's just as much the charming, funny, romp with heart that the first part was. Everything that worked with the first film is back and it even corrects a problem the last film had.
See, the biggest drawback for Ant-Man was with Yellowjacket. On the one hand his personal issues with Hank Pym make sense and the burned bridges of a younger Pym continue to be a strong ongoing theme. The issue was with stakes. Making Pym's tech into a global level threat and bringing in the Hydra angle made the central action of the plot an impersonal one to Scott Lang who was just going along with things so he could maybe have a better chance of getting visitation rights to his daughter. The central conflict was between Hank and Janet against Darren Cross and Scott is essentially their proxy to fight against him and this undercuts the final sequences of the film.
This isn't the case in Ant-Man and the Wasp since all of the major conflict stems from the three main characters. It doesn't overreach the way the first film did and in some ways is a stronger movie for it. Ghost is a bit more of the same forgettable Marvel Villain that the MCU has been ever guilty of but credit to Hannah John-Kamen for taking the role as far as she reasonably could. The way her quantum instability is visualized is very fun to watch and makes for some neat action sequences.
While we are on the subject of action there's something to be said for the seeming role reversal for the typical male-female dynamic in these sorts of movies. Evangeline Lilly's more action oriented role as Wasp is just fantastic to watch and makes a lot of sense from an in-universe perspective. She's the one that taught Scott how to fight properly and how to use the suit as part of that skill set. She is showcased with an efficiency of movement and tactical acumen that makes her a natural in the role and seeing the pair fighting together visually tells the story of their familiarity with each other because of the events of the past film. It's a great example of having action help tell the story and a great example of showing instead of telling the audience what they need to know about these characters.
The downsides to the film certainly come from its place in the MCU rather than from anything the film itself does wrong. While I enjoyed the fact that this was a smaller, tighter and more personal narrative than Infinity War, one can't help but be distracted by that step down. In the same way that Ant-Man was really only a necessary watch after the release of Civil War, it really feels like you can skip this movie since there aren't heavy ties or consequences to the wider MCU as of yet. A secondary plot with a smaller villain does little more than give excuses for additional action sequences and I feel like if they and the main villain had been more connected the film could have been stronger.
Other than that, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a genuinely fun and especially funny movie that has a bit of something for everyone. A welcome, let's call it unclenching, after Infinity War. It's a well made good time with some genuine feel good moments that while not critical to the MCU, is none the less an enjoyable addition to it.