Ant-Man and the Wasp (Marvel Studios, PG-13)

I tried to come up with a cheeky joke about how refreshingly and coincidentally small Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp feels, but after several minutes of achingly bad dad jokes and puns I’ve decided to settle on this: Ant-Man and the Wasp is “fun-sized” in a universe that, recently, has been dizzyingly large scale.

There is no planet to save here. No “Mad Titans” or Chitauri invasion. No Civil War among gods. Ant-Man and the Wasp is humble, close to the ground (yeah I don’t think the jokes are going to stop), and surprisingly warm-hearted. That’s not to say that other Marvel films haven’t been one or even two of those things in the past. Getting all three into one movie, however, sets this hero flick apart.

Ant-Man is a movie about fatherhood. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) are both under the magnifying lens here. Both characters equally flawed, this movie navigates the rocky road of being a good parent in two strikingly similar yet nuanced paths. Pym, a hubris-laden scientist, has wronged others in his past and the toll man (or woman in this case) has come for their recompense. Lang, a kind-hearted dad with a history of fault, is already at work righting the wrongs he has committed but still has a lot to learn.

What sells Ant-Man isn’t its larger than life heroes or world ending villains but rather a relatable story about struggle and atonement. Lang and Pym have wronged people and they have to rectify those situations. Evangeline Lilly’s Hope and Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost slide into that story as strong women with powerful motive. With Marvel Studios in its tenth year of making films, the portrayal of these female heroes is refreshing, eschewing tropes that hero films have been marred by for nearly a decade.

And there is a lot of fun to be had within the confines of those story arcs. Director Payton Reed (Ant-Man, The Break-Up) flexes his creative muscles early and often in the action sequences of Ant-Man, uniquely shrinking his heroes to add something truly unique to the hand to hand combat and chase scenes. A significant portion of that being plain, unadulterated fun.

The film is also lined with good supporting actors. Scott Lang’s budding security business totes T.I. (Takers, American Gangster), David Dastmalchian (The Dark Knight, Prisoners), and frequently funny Michael Peña (Shooter, End of Watch). Three actors whose characters mesh well and provide a constant source of levity. On the other hand Laurence Fishburne’s (The Matrix) Bill Foster is a conflicted soul that bring perspective and gravitas to the film’s villain Ghost.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is a welcome departure from the scale of the most recent Marvel films, but that doesn’t impact its ability to feel like it belongs. There are gears provided by this movie that will fit nicely into the MCU machine at large, and there are several things posed by the events of the film that could have large implications in the final Avengers movie due to release in May of next year.

So much of the movie was left out of the trailer, a good problem to have, that one of the largest plot points of the film was a surprise. The task that is laid out before our heroes is daunting and emotional. Still, the weight of the more emotional events of this movie isn’t off-putting to its more lighthearted core. It balances everything out, give its players character, and keeps your eyes glued to the screen.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is big and dangerous. Ant-Man and the Wasp is small and raucous. It paints a compelling picture of the struggles fatherhood, owning one’s sins, and righting old wrongs, all while reminding us that laughter is important. It was a genuinely good time. A film perfect for parents and their little ones, Marvel diehards, and newcomers alike. | Caleb Sawyer

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