For those still recovering from the brutal ending of Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp is here to save the summer. And this time, you won’t need to console your kids or your friends or your friends’ kids about the deaths of beloved superheroes. The newest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe — out July 6 — is hilarious, heartfelt, and easily the most family-friendly Marvel movie in recent memory. (No spoilers for Ant-Man and the Wasp ahead.)
Unlike the last few Marvel flicks, Ant-Man and the Wasp is almost totally unburdened of the complicated continuity that tends to define these kinds of movies. In fact, other than the post-credits scene, parents won’t need to whisper partial character explanations to their kids in the theater. Yes, there are references to Captain America, but even if you missed the first Ant-Man in 2015, or the last Captain America in 2016 everything you need to know about this film happens in this movie. There’s even an uproarious Drunk History–style recap of the previous movie narrated by Ant-Man’s (Paul Rudd) best friend, Luis (Michael Peña, reprising his role from the first film).
As is standard in a movie like this, the stakes and the plot rest on absurd technological gobbledygook that mostly just translates to all the characters running around chasing after buildings that have been shrunken-down to the size of suitcases, and worrying about how big is too big and how small is too small. But, because the majority of the action is played for laughs, none of the serious stuff matters too much. As the title suggests, the movie is about both Ant-Man and The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), who can make things really big with a secret ray gun and has wings.
But, even though Ant-Man the superhero plays second fiddle to the Wasp in the punching and kicking, flying and shirking departments, Paul Rudd’s alter ego, Scott Lang, shines as a father struggling to do the right thing for his daughter. Considering the previous Marvel movie depicted evil purple dad Thanos murdering his daughter Gamora in order to gain access to a magic space gem, Ant-Man and the Wasp’s depiction of loving families seems long overdue in this cinematic universe. From Thor to Iron Man, to Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel films have a track record of depicting fathers and families in pseudo-Shakespearean terms. Thor’s dad lied to Thor about pretty much everything, Star Lord’s dad was a selfish horny space god who slept with countless aliens and didn’t really care about any of his children, Tony Stark’s dad was an asshole who valued career over everything else. In addition to killing one of his kids, Thanos, like a wicked King Lear, also turned his two daughters against each other.
In Ant-Man and the Wasp, parents love their children unconditionally, and vice-versa. In microcosm, there’s one perfect moment that represents this theme and demonstrates why the movie works so well. After Cassie encourages her father to return to superhero stuff, Ant-Man finds himself in the San Francisco harbor, the size of a giant. As her mother and step-father watch the action on a TV news report with horror, the camera pans to Cassie grinning fiendishly at her dad’s antics, likely mirroring most of the audience. The scale of the film is perfectly in proportion to the target audience in this moment: here’s the giant, bumbling superhero father, and here’s his daughter laughing hysterically in approval.
Ant-Man and the Wasp’s super-powers are mostly about shrinking themselves down to the size of their insect monikers, and the film is pretty much the same, and way more enjoyable than Infinity War thanks to the literal and figurative smaller scale. The film is also less violent than other entries in the franchise and, contains a villain who isn’t really a villain at all and focuses on the value of life instead of an excessive meditation on death. Though Marvel’s huge breadth and influence are certainly part of its success, Ant-Man and the Wasp proves that when it comes to crowd-pleasing superhero movies, smaller is better.
–Ant-Man and the Wasp is out in movie theaters on July 6.-