Size matters. So too, does timing. It's safe to say that in the wake of the sprawling Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and The Wasp is precisely the kind of modest, self-contained movie the team at Marvel needed to make. Set shortly before The Avengers' dust-up with Thanos, the film acknowledges its place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet cleverly distances itself from intergalactic conflict by instead focusing on three very intimate human stories.
The first concerns Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man, played again by the seemingly ageless Paul Rudd. Thanks to his exploits in Captain America: Civil War, he now finds himself subject to house arrest and attempts to while away his two-year sentence by both establishing a security consultancy company and creatively entertaining his young daughter. The second picks up with Lang's two (now former) partners: Hope van Dyne aka The Wasp (Evangeline Lily) and her father Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) as they attempt to rescue Hope's long-lost mother from the mind-boggling Quantum Realm. The third follows a pair of villains: superhuman Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) and black marketeer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), each of whom seeks to steal Pym's quantum tech for themselves.
That's the sum of it. There are no aliens here, no space ships or wormholes. There aren't even many lives at stake. Instead, Ant-Man and The Wasp mostly concerns itself with the preservation and/or restoration of fading relationships. The small-scale (no pun intended) storytelling proves a welcome reprieve from the MCU's growing complexity, while the filmmakers also smartly retain the innovative action and laugh out loud comedy from their character's first big screen outing. The danger for this franchise was always going to be the Honey I Shrunk The Superhero dynamic getting old. Thankfully, the creative minds behind Ant-Man and The Wasp continue to deliver the unexpected in almost every major sequence, tinkering with the size of everything from cars to buildings to Pez dispensers.
As Lang, Rudd very much holds court again, his disarming awkwardness acting as the perfect foil for the more stern performances of Lily and Douglas. Not every joke lands, and a few of the one-liners seem crowbarred in, but the tone remains impressively consistent throughout, almost to the point of feeling like a straight-up comedy (thanks in no small way to another scene-stealing turn from Michael Pena). Goggins, too, is as reliable as ever as the Southern Gentleman rogue, while John-Kamen's Ghost offers the film its necessary dramatic streak without ever descending into two-dimensional villainy. Later appearances by some other big names (whose identity we'll preserve for the sake of surprise) lend additional gravitas to an already impressive cast, and even Stan Lee's inevitable cameo brings a laugh instead of the usual eye roll.
Unsurprisingly, Ant-Man and The Wasp also addresses the shocking finale to Infinity War, although it does so in a neatly inconclusive way, allowing for much speculation and very little certainty. In all, it's a well calculated step by Marvel and a timely reminder that superhero movies can tell compelling human stories without resorting to world-ending CGI chaos.