Three years ago Marvel Studios ended ‘Phase 2’ of their cinematic universe with “Ant-Man”. It was a surprising investment considering Ant-Man isn’t what you would consider a top-tier Marvel superhero. What surprised me even more was how well it was received. “Ant-Man” wasn’t a bad movie, but its constant hit-or-miss humor along with its silly, paper-thin villain left me wanting more.
Film #20 in the MCU is “Ant-Man and the Wasp”, a sequel that had me curious and surprisingly optimistic. An entirely new group of screenwriters handle the script, but ringmaster Peyton Reed returns to the director’s chair doling out plenty of humor and unique superhero action. Both work better this time around. The sequel is funnier and the action has a delightfully playful flavor. And the stakes here are more personal. It’s a welcome departure from the normal catastrophic global threat we get in these movies.
Paul Rudd returns as the immensely likable con-turned-superhero Scott Lang. He’s serving the final days of his house arrest sentence for helping Captain America during the “Civil War” storyline. Not only did he get in trouble with the government, but he also alienated Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) by sneaking off with Hank’s Ant-Man suit and exposing the tech to the world. With so many bad people hungry for the technology, Hank and Hope sever ties with Scott and are forced into hiding.
During their time in seclusion, Hank and Hope work on a contraption they believe can rescue their long-lost wife/mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm. But to do so will require them to mend fences with Scott. Their work also attracts a lot of unwanted attention. Walter Goggins is a hoot playing a black market peddler of quantum energy. He has a $1 billion buyer anxious to get their hands on Pym’s lab. Hannah John-Kamen plays Ghost, a woman whose ability to phase through objects is slowly killing her and Pym’s quantum research may be all that can save her life. Toss in the FBI and Scott’s dogged parol officer (played by a very funny Randall Park) and you have a lot of conflicts and storylines.
Thankfully Reed and company handle these numerous plot-strings nimbly and with smarts. They have no qualms with their movie being light, breezy and smaller scaled – all perfect fits for this kind of story. They know the type of film they are making and they seem to embrace the sillier side of the whole thing. That’s one reason Michael Peña’s character can work. He returns as Luis, Scott’s one-time cell mate and now close friend who basically serves as the never-ending comic relief. He was spotty at best in the first film, even annoying at times. This time he isn’t given as much room for improvisation and his dialogue feels more natural and unforced. He doesn’t land every joke, but he has some very funny moments.
But the real highlights are Rudd and Lily. The two have a remarkable chemistry and it’s a lot of fun watching them bounce off each other. Both performances and characters nicely balance out – Rudd’s lovable, self-deprecating Scott, Lily’s fiercely determined Hope. Their personalities even carry over into the action. Hope’s Wasp is tough and tenacious. Ant-Man’s irresistible goofiness can’t help but bleed over into his action scenes.
While “Ant-Man and the Wasp” benefits from its lightheartedness, in a weird way it’s also held back by it. With the exception of the expected mid-credits scene at the end, the film does little to raise the stakes in the MCU. It also doesn’t clearly answer a big question I had going in: Where was Ant-Man during Infinity War? But let’s be honest, does it have to do these things to be a good movie? Certainly not. For my money there is plenty of room in Marvel’s every-growing big screen universe for smaller more tightly-knit pictures like this. I would even call them refreshing.
VERDICT – 4 STARS