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Ant-Man and the Wasp

(2018) *** Pg-13
118 min. Walt Disney Pictures. Director: Peyton Reed. Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne, Hannah John-Kamen, Michelle Pfeiffer, Randall Park.

/content/films/5117/1.jpgBlockbuster movies have a tendency to “go big,” but the most appealingly offbeat of the current crop of big-screen superheroes has a tendency to go small. The 2015 screen debut of Ant-Man gave us a nimble, kid-friendly superhero comedy, from director Peyton Reed and the screenwriting dream teams of Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish and Adam McKay & Paul Rudd. Rudd returns as co-writer and star of Ant-Man and the Wasp, reunited with Reed for a sequel that delivers on the promise of a romantic superhero partnership (times two).

Though a familiarity with what’s been going down in the Marvel Cinematic Universe certainly doesn’t hurt, it’s not required to enjoy the latest adventure of Scott Lang, a.k.a. Ant-Man. Rudd’s criminal-turned-hero has been recriminalized as a result of the side he took during Captain America: Civil War, so when this picture kicks off, he’s stuck on house arrest for three more days (under the purview of Randall Park’s comically feckless F.B.I. agent).

Adventure comes calling when the first Ant-Man—brilliant scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas)—and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly)—a.k.a. super-suited the Wasp—demand Scott’s help to recover Hope’s mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the “quantum realm.” She was lost in action there thirty years earlier, and Scott holds the key to finding her. The technobabble-fueled plot gymnastics that follow (Scott: “Do you guys just put ‘quantum’ in front of everything?”) involve a troublesome and mysterious figure cursed with “molecular disequilibrium” (Hannah John-Kamen’s Ghost), a cutting-edge-tech black-marketeer (Walton Goggins), and Hank’s old frenemy Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), now a professor at U.C. Berkeley.

Ant-Man and the Wasp keeps its two hours fairly fleet by hurtling through its plot with a don’t-think-about-this-plot-device-too-hard abandon and a busy cast of characters. The three stooges who work with Scott (Michael Peña, David Dastmalchian, and Tip “T.I.” Harris) make a welcome return, as do Scott’s hero-worshipping daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson) and her mom (Judy Greer) and stepdad (Bobby Cannavale). If the first film felt more carefully laid out, the sequel succeeds in stoking some Pixar-style emotion in its family dynamics: while the events of Ant-Man and the Wasp may not mean much to the MCU at large, they’re life-and-death matters to these characters, who risk it all for love.

Part of the fun of the Ant-Man films comes from their retro roots in ‘50s and ‘60s sci-fi films like The Incredible Shrinking Man, Fantastic Voyage, and The Time Machine. The imagination at work here feels like literal child’s play, especially when it involves playing with scale. Ant-Man and the Wasp can be normal size, tiny, or huge using Hank’s tech, and so can buildings and cars, which leads to an intricately designed wild-ride car-chase sequence on the streets of San Francisco beyond the wildest dreams of the stunt team behind Bullitt.

The rest of the fun comes from an impressive core cast in sync with the enterprise’s good humor and whimsy. With Pfeiffer just getting started in this playground, a threequel seems inevitable, and if it can match the sequel’s fun-loving competence and retain the series’ sense of anything-goes wonder, we’ll welcome more big things in small packages. Put simply, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a good time at the movies.

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