"Ant-Man And The Wasp" Upsizes Action And Humor

The problem with “Ant-Man,” and what evidently led to “Hot Fuzz” filmmaker Edgar Wright unceremoniously vacating the project during pre-production, was its inflated sense of importance within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What effect would Hank Pym’s nanotech have on the world at large? What effect would it have on the Avengers? The answer: “Who cares?” It’s Ant-Man. The character’s ensuing appearance in “Captain America: Civil War” was accordingly strained, his absence from “Avengers: Infinity War” welcome.

“Ant-Man And The Wasp” isn’t worlds better than its predecessor, but it is a lot more enjoyable, crucially embracing the triviality of its title characters. After a shaky first act, it becomes the bright, buoyant action-comedy “Ant-Man” should have been.

Most of the original cast returns: Paul Rudd as thief-turned-good-guy Scott Lang (aka Ant-Man), Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne (aka The Wasp), Michael Douglas as Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man), and the radiant Michael Peña as Luis, the leader of Scott’s cadre of fellow entrepreneurial ex-cons. Together they’re thrown into a non-story of intentionally small proportions by a team of five screenwriters (including Rudd). And it works! The script’s low stakes and whimsicality are refreshing, allowing returning director Peyton Reed to lean into his comedy roots while the technical wizards behind him whip up a handful of delightful action sequences.

Scott is under house arrest for his “Civil War” escapades, the smallest violation of which could lead to twenty years in prison and missing his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) grow up. Hope and Hank have since distanced themselves from Scott, but optimistic that they can rescue their long-lost mother and wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm, they kidnap him. The hope is to capitalize on Scott’s own experience in it but to everyone’s surprise, Janet has literally gotten inside Scott’s head, directing her loved ones to her very precarious location.

This elaborate rescue attempt in the making lasts the duration of the film but never gets stale. The “why” rests in Hank’s eight-story laboratory that’s easily shrunken down to the size of a suitcase – and amusingly rolls just like one. Such a lab and especially the technology within proves a hot commodity, drawing the criscrossing attention of a professional criminal named Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), an FBI agent (Randall Park) who doubles as Scott’s parole officer, and a mysterious presence known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) that can move through solid objects.

This is all exquisitely absurd, perfectly attuned to the potential of an Ant-Man film. The anticipated size gags are uniformly inspired and hilarious, the best of which sees a three-foot Paul Rudd traversing the halls of an elementary school in a blue hoodie. And the pic’s climax is a dazzling blend of imagination and special effects, the constant resizing of vehicles from full-size to diecast refreshing what would have been a perfcuntory car chase.

Throughout, Rudd is considerably more charming than the last time around, where the career funnyman seemed at a loss for how to shoulder a $100 million movie. Everyone is more comfortable here: Lilly seizes her place as the first female MCU title character, and Reed comes out with a strong scent of roses. This is his best, most confident film to date, a showcase for his directorial abilities as much as his comedic instincts.

Perhaps most winningly of all, there are more ants; ants everywhere, doing everything, including playing electric drums. They’re a joy.

Considering the triviality inherent in the material, “Ant-Man And The Wasp” is nearly a best case scenario, even wielding a fairly graceful lead-in to the upcoming fourth Avengers film, where Scott Lang will undoubtedly factor in heavily. Only this time, Ant-Man and The Wasp seem to have found their niche. Assuming they stay there, audiences can expect plenty more good-natured hijinks.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Good)

Release Date: July 6, 2018
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures, Marvel Studios
Director: Peyton Reed
Screenwriters: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari, Paul Rudd
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Abby Ryder Fortson, Michael Peña, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, Hannah John-Kamen, Walton Goggins, Randall Park, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some sci-fi action violence)