2.5 stars (out of 4)
Ant-Man and The Wasp is the third Marvel movie since February, and it’s the smallest by far. I’m not just referring to the miniscule size of its pesky, butt-kicking superheroes.
Unlike Black Panther or the sprawling Avengers: Infinity War, you’ll need glasses — and not necessarily the 3D kind — to see the scope of the story. Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) aren’t here to rescue the world, or even their home base of San Francisco, from mass chaos. The villains don’t loom as indestructible, domineering figures. Only one scene holds true urgency. I’d give you permission to squash the whole thing except for one buzz-worthy detail: The movie lives large when it comes to genuine hearty laughs.
Magic tricks. The Partridge Family. A World’s Greatest Grandma trophy. Those are just some of the amusing gags in the first seven minutes of this sequel, which picks up after 2016’s Captain Americ: Civil War and before all the Avengers: Infinity War agita. Rudd’s ex-thief Scott Lang is still under house arrest for another few days because he broke the Sokovia Accords. He can taste the freedom. His Ant-Man days are in the rear-view mirror. Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne can’t stand him. Then he has a telling dream in which he’s transported back into the time-shifting Quantum Realm – one that involves Lilly’s mom, the Original Wasp (Michelle Pfeiffer).
Pfeiffer got sucked into the Quantum Realm 30 years ago. She’s been there ever since. Now Hope and her brilliant scientist dad, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), believe they can get her back, and Ant-Man is the key. Lilly springs him from the house, and the three of them chart a plan. There are a few problems, though. The mysterious mercenary Ghost (Hannah John-Komen) is hot on their tiny trails. She has her own motivations for reaching out into the Quantum Realm — and she’s enlisted Pym’s disgruntled former cohort (Laurence Fishburne) for assistance. Meanwhile, a shady businessman with ties to the technology black market (Walton Goggins) also wants to put a stop to the action. That’s exactly one villain too many for a film akin to a watered down tonic leading up next May’s Avengers 4 extravaganza.
Just like in Ant-Man, much of the action depends on the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids-like size-shifting. A pigeon looks as intimidating as a T-Rex from Jurassic World and so on. The results are hit and miss the second time around. With the novelty gone, Ant-Man and the Wasp can only thrill so much as flying insects. The snarky, stinging moments don’t always mix well with the weightless dramatic arcs. Really, is there any doubt that Pfeiffer will make it out of that Realm? How did she survive three decades without food and water anyway?
The cast saves the day. The boyishly handsome Rudd is his usual appealing everyman self, capable enough to get himself out of a jam yet still funny enough to drop punchlines along the way. The man is just a master at droll comic delivery. Now that he’s grown into the suit, the actor is looser here — as evidenced by his effortless banter with Lilly, Douglas, and his young daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson). Lilly possesses all the no-nonsense savvy and smarts of a true heroine, and this time she doesn’t have to do battle with that frightful bob wig. Mid-way through the film, Lilly tells Rudd that if she had been fighting in Germany with “the Cap” and the other Avengers, he wouldn’t have been arrested. You know what? I believe her. She and Rudd are simply fly, along with a hilarious Michael Pena as his loose-lipped former partner in crime.
For 10 years, the MCU has defeated its cinematic peers because of its ability to consistently deliver high-quality escapist entertainment. But there’s one chink in the armor: The Sequel. From Iron-Man 2 to Thor: Dark World to Guardians of the Galaxy 2 to Avengers: Age of Ultron, the bloated and inconsequential Part 2 installments fall short of their predecessors. (Captain America: Winter Solider is the lone exception). A crafty Part 3, though, can offer redemption. Ant-Man and the Wasp will return. The promise is right there at the end of the credits. Here’s hoping they do it in a big way.
Ant-Man and The Wasp opens in theaters on Friday, July 6
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