Courtesy Marvel Entertainment

‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ Embiggens Marvel’s Box Office (and Creative) Clout

Marvel’s latest box office victory proves even their smallest heroes are a pretty big deal.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” [insert insect/ superhero/ size pun] the July 4th box office, collecting an estimated $76 million domestically over what was technically a three-day weekend (side-eyes to you, awkward Wednesday Independence Day). Darren Cross-types might point out that this is the fifth-lowest opening of the now 20 films in the MCU, and the worst since – whaddayaknow – the original “Ant-Man” opened to $57 million in 2015. The film’s producers who just got a lot more rich would tell you that “Ant-Man and the Wasp” improved on the opening of the original by nearly $20 million and earned back its roughly $160 million budget in a single weekend with international grosses.

So even when Marvel makes a comparatively (damnit, there’s no way around this…) smaller movie that opens to nine-figures less than its other two 2018 releases, the studio still achieves the type of success that rivals might consider “franchise-establishing” (by comparison, Universal’s cursed attempt at building a shared *snicker* “Dark Universe” stalled out after “The Mummy” finished with $80 million domestic last summer, a mere $4 million more than “Ant-Man and the Wasp” made in three days).

Beyond extending Marvel’s win streak to 20-0 in opening No. 1 at the box office, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” perhaps illustrates Marvel’s dominance even more sharply than “Black Panther” or “Avengers: Infinity War.” Regardless of their considerable production and marketing costs, those films were two of the most anticipated titles of the past several years, and while they indeed performed at a historic pace–sitting at No. 4 and 5, respectively, in all-time domestic box office with global gross in excess of $3 BILLION–they were expected to shatter records far in advance of their release.

But with apologies to the hardcore Rudd-heads out there, no one was waiting with baited breath on the “Ant-Man” sequel; in its way, this was a considerably more risky picture than Marvel’s other two 2018 titles. Plopped into the middle of one of the most competitive times of the year at the box office, it makes outpaces its predecessor out of the gate, continuing Marvel’s longtime trend of their sequels outperforming the previous entry.

However, if you’re a Warner Bros. executive who approved the costly and ultimately pointless “Justice League” reshoots, the most frustrating part of the success of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” might be that it’s good. Marvel is due for a dud (overdue, in fact), and with its lower stakes and lesser-known stars, Ant-Man Returns scans as just that. However “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is as zippy and effervescent as its DC counterparts are plodding and bleak. The story is far more cohesive than its predecessor, while the supporting cast (new and old) is even funnier than in the first. And thanks to the Giant-Man reveal in “Captain America: Civil War”–arguably the best part of an instantly iconic scene–director Peyton Reed can play with scale in ways both big and small during the action sequences (it has a worthy entry into the pantheon of San Francisco car chases).

Plus Ant-Man is Paul Rudd, and only Hydra members hate Paul Rudd (I see you, Rudd-heads).

So even though it may ultimately register as one of the minor Marvel movies, the success of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is anything but modest for a studio that has now completed the hat-trick on one of the most impressive years in Hollywood history. And for the rest of the movie business, that has to sting.