Ant-Man and the Wasp, starring Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly, is small potatoes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The premise was dreamed up by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the acid haze of the 1960s: a size-changing superhero who can also, for some reason, command ants to do his bidding. It opened with around a $76 million domestic box office - solid numbers, but underwhelming when compared to the billion-dollar juggernauts of Infinity War and Black Panther that preceded it. Critics have been fairly consistent in their impressions: a fun little movie, but fairly inconsequential next to the epic scope and ambition of what Marvel is pumping out these days.
But actually I think they have it wrong. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a bit too bloated these days. The epic sprawl of Infinity War, for instance, actually holds the film back as too many characters have too much to do and not enough time. And Black Panther, like a lot of Marvel films, suffered from lazily staged and frankly boring CGI fight scenes that degenerated into orgies of fairly crappy CGI (this was especially acute in Black Panther's case which was an otherwise stellar movie. Makes you. wonder what happened with the VFX company there....).
That Ant-Man does not suffer from these liabilities works to its benefit and actually makes it one of the most enjoyable Marvel films yet. The first Ant-Man was basically a heist movie that used constantly changing scale and perspective to stage some very visually inventive action sequences. The sequel takes that and keeps it moving forward, perhaps with a bit more confidence and less behind-the-scenes drama which probably helps to give the film a more consistent look and feel.
The action sequences in this movie are excellent! And moreover, they don't look like anything else you've ever seen in an action movie. The famous San Francisco car chase sequence from Bullit is re-imagined here with Hot Wheels-sized vehicles; the Wasp darts around on a restaurant counter filled with produce while a guy tries to smash her with a meat hammer; Ant-Man rides a truck like a scooter; Ant-Man sneaks into an elementary school wearing an oversize hoodie. The use of perspective and scale to give us not only great actions sequences, but some genuinely hilarious moments, made this film feel so fresh and fun. It's clever. It's really really clever, especially visually, and that is just not something you can say about most other Marvel films.
It's also very fun. The characters banter and goof around. There is a lot of self-awareness, such as when Scott Lang points out that (the writers) have merely placed the word "quantum" in front of other words in order to make their techno-babble sound real. The plot is a nonsense, just an excuse to drive the action and keep the characters crossing paths with one another. But here is the thing: it works. The film is so confident that you will enjoy watching these characters hang out and play off one another, and it is so confident that the visual momentum will keep you hooked, that it doesn't even really bother with a villain. That's right. There isn't really a villain in this movie. Which is great, because it doesn't need one! Another cool thing about this movie as that even though Ant-Man gets top billing, the Wasp does most of the ass-kicking and she looks fucking cool doing it too. Scott Lang spends most of the time fiddling with his busted suit trying to get himself to the right size.
So yes, the critics are right that this film does not have the epic scope and grandeur of a lot of recent Marvel films. It's not about saving the universe (not yet... wait for Infinity War Part 2, where Scott Lang is sure to be crucial to saving the day). It doesn't take place on a trash planet in space. There is no bending of time and reality. It doesn't even really have a villain. And for me, that's what makes this film so much better than most other Marvel films. Without these plot straitjackets or the burden of world-building, the film can focus narrowly on what it wants to do and dazzle you. And, honestly, if you can't just relax and appreciate the way the movie ingeniously plays with scale then what are you even doing on this Earth?
This movie is so good it was almost worth the $22 I paid to see it. I am not really one to complain about high prices but $22 to see a movie in a multiplex at 2 PM on a Monday just feels wrong. Australia, you need to sort that shit out!