The Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen success after success in its 10-year history thanks to the “Marvel formula,” but in the case of Ant-Man and the Wasp, the formula is what made the sequel one of the MCU’s worst movies.
Following in the action comedy footsteps established by the early Phase 1 installments, particularly Iron Man, the MCU quickly earned itself a consistent look and feel referred to by many as the “Marvel formula.” Maintaining a similar tone and aesthetic across the franchise didn’t only help maintain audience expectations about what they’d get when sitting down for a Marvel movie, but ensured that regular crossovers could easily be achieved across multiple sub-franchises.
It’s hard to argue with the MCU’s success, both critical and financial, but the Marvel formula often comes under fire from detractors for valuing “fun” of drama or more serious stakes. The likes of Thor: Ragnarok certainly could have been a darker apocalyptic fantasy epic, yet Taika Waititi’s more comedic direction provided a film many see as one of the franchises best.
Ironically, the case with Ant-Man and the Wasp is the exact opposite. Where the Marvel formula usually causes drama to be substituted for humor, Ant-Man and the Wasp actually felt like it wasn’t as funny as it should have been, with the Marvel formula forcing a movie that works better as a straight-up comedy into the more serious action comedy (an action movie with jokes, not a comedy with action) trappings of the MCU.
The MCU is frequently derided for its subpar villains. More recent installments, particularly Avengers: Infinity War, have gone a long way to improve on this point, but, unfortunately, Ant-Man and the Wasp takes two giant steps back, introducing a collection of villains that just might be the MCU’s worst.
That doesn’t mean there’s no potential there. Walton Goggins’s Sonny Burch (and his mysterious boss) was more than enough of a threat for a traditional comedy, and his confrontation with Luis and the rest of the X-Con Security Consultants is likely the funniest scene in the whole movie, but the addition of Ghost and Dr. Bill Foster distract from that by adding an unnecessarily shallow comic book villain to the fold.
While Ghost’s backstory could have provided the depth lacking in most MCU villains, her darker backstory clashed with the rest of the film’s comedy – a tone Sonny Burch fit much better – and the crowded villain space didn’t even leave enough time to develop her backstory anyway, leaving fans to infer the rest of her history from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..
Removing Ghost from the story clearly deprives the movie of some of its action, but the best action scenes were during the car chase in the 3rd act anyway, proving a supernatural foe isn’t necessary to present an exciting challenge to the size changing superheroes. Or, if that is an element Marvel wants to retain, simply give the phasing ability to some of Burch’s henchmen, eliminating the need for a convoluted backstory.