Mild Spoilers for “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and “Avengers: Infinity War” will be discussed.

Acting as the first film to follow the drastic events of April’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” the second solo outing for Marvel’s minuscule hero soared into theaters this summer. Seeking to pitch a far more light-hearted adventure, the sequel to 2015’s “Ant-Man” tossed its characters into yet another enthralling heist, all while introducing fans to the franchise’s newest female hero. While its low-stakes premise might not hold nearly as much emotional weight as April’s massive team-up effort, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” still managed to send up an exciting and hilarious team-up of its own.

Following the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” ex-con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) grapples with the consequences of revealing his superhero persona Ant-Man to the world. As he serves a two-year sentence of house arrest, he strives to take care of his daughter Cassie, reluctant to don the suit again. After Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) reemerge from hiding, however, they enlist Lang to help find Hope’s mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) within the mysterious Quantum Realm. As new enemies and old allies seek to stand in their way, Lang must team up with Hope as Ant-Man and the Wasp to ensure Janet’s return.
Even with anticipation on the rise for the future heavy-hitters of its ever-growing franchise, like next Spring’s “Captain Marvel” and the yet-untitled “Avengers 4,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe notched its twentieth feature film in this summer’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” Seeking to continue the story of con-man-turned-superhero Scott Lang set by 2015’s “Ant-Man,” director Peyton Reed set out to not only delve further into the complicated new life of Paul Rudd’s mini-hero but also to introduce us to one of the MCU’s latest female badasses. While returning to the world of “Ant-Man” seemed pale in comparison to speculating what occurs after the latest “Avengers” film, Reed managed to fish fans back in with the simple promise of a light-hearted story amid dark times.

While 2015’s “Ant-Man” was far from the best the MCU had to offer in their big-screen outings — following up massive stand-outs in 2014’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” the franchise’s first true dive into the heist genre did ultimately pay off in the tiny hero’s favor. As the film detailed the exploits of inventor Hank Pym and his reluctance to make “The Ant-Man” a tool for a higher power, it also gave us a promising debut for actor Paul Rudd within the superhero genre. With his unique mix of melancholic charm and naivety lending him to become more than simply a minuscule comic relief, we found in Scott Lang a criminal molded by the principles of both fatherhood and newfound purpose. Even as the film dredged into a similar power struggle to 2008’s “Iron Man,” the protagonist in Rudd’s conflicted hero and his allies proved to be something worth exploring more of.

Thus came “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” the highly-anticipated follow-up to one of Marvel’s smallest adventures. Making for possibly one of their best sequels yet, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” set out to do exactly what a compelling sequel should do. As it blended its shrinking action set-pieces with a worthy narrative of uncovering the past, the film used the charm and inventive nature of its predecessor to craft a fun, quick and cunning small-scale superhero effort. With more character development for Lang, Pym and Evangeline Lilly’s superb Hope van Dyne, and a driven director in Reed, the sequel succeeded where it counted most.

With such a small-scale story, the likes of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” surpassing a film as grand and dramatic as April’s”Avengers: Infinity War” was never in the headlights of director Peyton Reed and the other filmmakers behind the sequel. Yes, while crafting a great film that would make the studio loads of cash was surely on the radar, the film never intended on outdoing the earth-shattering ramifications of the April release. Instead, it worked to run parallel, sewing together the threads left open from the 2015 original and gearing towards the greater — and frighteningly unexpected — threat ahead. That, I think, was what made “Ant-Man and the Wasp” so powerful, similar to the other solo MCU films surrounding the bigger players of the franchise. That too played into what makes Ant-Man such a compelling hero.

While I won’t spend this whole review comparing this film to the latest “Avengers,” due to the fact that they are radically different films, the fact that “Ant-Man and the Wasp” runs parallel to the events of “Infinity War” made its lightweight premise that much more interesting. As we found Scott Lang reeling after the events of Marvel’s last showcase in “Captain America: Civil War,” we saw how his relationship with daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) has shifted since. Even with his life in danger and his identity as the Ant-Man now revealed to the world, his loyalties lie ever-so-tethered to his family. As we see the same conflict in Hank Pym and his own daughter Hope, the unexpected consequences of “Infinity War” managed to give this film its own emotional edge, begging the question: Is saving your family worth it when an untimely end lies at the horizon?

Despite this, the film paid much of its attention to staying oblivious to the effects of “Infinity War,” working instead to craft a compelling, low-stakes adventure free from the dread of the latter. As its plot sent Lang and Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne on a desperate search for her mother Janet, the film quickly developed an even greater emotional depth than the first. As Rudd’s naive hero melded with both his daughter and new ally Hope, as he struggled to keep his life as a father and a partner in line, Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym battled his own demons from the first film. With the search for his wife Janet leading him into the affairs of former partner Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), we saw more of Pym’s past and his reluctance to resurface it. We also saw how the scientist’s past aligned with the destruction (and creation) of the film’s antagonist in Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost. Equally fueled by the grim outcomes of her own past, John-Kamen gave the film another ounce of emotion atop the familial struggle at its center.

Overall, while the action sequences in the latest minuscule chapter might not leave a lasting mark on the MCU as a whole, the charm and emotional depth at the heart of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” put it in a unique spot alongside the other Marvel releases of 2018. As February’s “Black Panther” introduced us to a culturally-significant and vastly-compelling story of revolution and royalty, and April’s grand team-up drew a startling shadow over the franchise, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” lent its story to explore a lighter side of things. Still teeming with a close-knit internal struggle between its main characters, the sequel made for an entertaining, well-rounded palette cleanser with its own emotional significance.


Poster Courtesy of Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios