Film Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp

Sequel to the 2015 hit finds Ant-Man and his team on a rescue mission into the Quantum Realm. Bright, vibrant adventure improves on the original.
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A scruffy poor relation in the Marvel Universe, Ant-Man gets by with wit and wile more than superpowers. Ant-Man and the Wasp does the same, abandoning cosmic bombast for a smart, funny story about family. Both a lighter and deeper movie than the original, it should do even better at the box office.

Ex-con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has been confined to house arrest since his exploits as Ant-Man in Captain America: Civil War. A mysterious vision of Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), a scientist trapped in the subatomic Quantum Realm, persuades the reluctant Scott to help her daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hope’s scientist father Hank (Michael Douglas).

They need a black-market component from oily crook Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), but the transaction falls apart with the appearance of Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). Her ability to "phase," or slip through dimensions, lets her escape with the component. It also suggests she had contact with the Quantum Realm. In fact, Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), Hank's associate until they had a falling out, reveals that Ghost, or Ava, was part of a secret government experiment that is now causing her disintegration.

In addition to fighting Ghost, Scott and his team have to deal with Burch and his goons, as well as FBI agents led by Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), who are threatening to put Scott away for 20 years. And time is running out for Janet, who could disappear forever in the Quantum Realm.

That's a lot of plot, but director Peyton Reed uses the clever, intricate screenplay as a springboard for riffs and asides that flesh out the characters. Ant-Man and the Wasp focuses more on immediate personal problems than on the physics of the Quantum Realm or how energy tunnels work. Reed doesn't mind stopping everything to let ex-con Luis (Michael Peña) reframe the movie's plot in a hilarious, hyper-speed monologue, or to let Scott have a casual conversation with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) that slowly brings up heartfelt issues.

Scott, Hope, Bill, even Cassie are all motivated to help others, not to save the universe or even fight evil. Ant-Man and the Wasp doesn't even have a super-villain. Both Burch and Woo are played for laughs, Goggins hamming it up too much as the crook, Park finding a better balance as an inept FBI agent. Even Ava is sympathetic. Much like the oversized, 1950s sci-fi monsters the movie gently mocks, she's more misunderstood than malicious.

Ant-Man and the Waspmay be about broken families trying to reunite, but that doesn't mean it skimps on Marvel fundamentals. The action scenes are complex masterpieces of speed and stunts that combine physical bits with fresh, exciting 3D effects. In a welcome shift, Lilly's Wasp dominates the fight scenes as Rudd's Ant-Man struggles with defective suits. (And Pfeiffer's Janet knows a lot more than Hank.)

Reed and his crew toy with scale, offering continually shifting juxtapositions that are as amusing as they are exciting. The visuals in the Quantum Realm sequences approximate bewitching LSD trips (complete with streaking and trailing). And a slapstick chase through the streets of San Francisco wouldn't feel out of place in a silent short.

Marvel may be crushing the movie industry, but when the machine works this well, it's hard to complain. Ant-Man and the Wasp is delightful from start to finish, especially after the apocalyptic Infinity War. (The two stories do tie together, to the audible consternation of some viewers at a preview screening.)

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