Photos | Marvel Studios / Sony Pictures
Paul Rudd delivers his winning combination of smarm and charm as Scott Lang, ex-con, cute dad and superhero, in “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” a delightful standalone entry in the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe, an ever-expanding entertainment behemoth whose more modest offerings, like this one, I actually prefer.
After the massive cast, labyrinthine cliffhangers and devastating body count of “Avengers: Infinity War,” this is a brisk, bright, basically self-contained adventure. Yes, the concept of a guy wearing a super suit that allows him to change sizes as his super power is silly, but let me remind you that all of these movies are technically silly, so “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is the perfect kind of Marvel flick for me. It is exciting but also hilarious, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. And that it takes place in San Francisco instead of space or various fantasy realms grounds it in the real world, making its effects and antics that much better.
Scott Lang begins the film in his final three days of house arrest which, we are told, he is under due to fighting alongside Captain America in an earlier film. Fortunately, it’s not that important if you have seen that one or not, nor if you have seen the first “Ant-Man,” which this one improves upon.
An endearing sequence shows us Lang as a father devoted to his daughter, Cassie, while finally making it work with his ex-wife and her husband. He’s also attempting to start a security business, aptly named X-Con, with his ex-con friends, most memorably the scene-stealing Michael Peña. Of course, this relatively peaceful scene is about to blow up.
While Lang is trying to keep his life together after his adventures as Ant-Man, his former partner, Hope, aka The Wasp, and her father (Michael Douglas), the inventor of the Ant-Man technology, have been living in hiding and trying to save Hope’s long-lost mother from a psychedelic-looking place called the Quantum Zone. They reluctantly reach out to Scott for his assistance with a bunch of pseudo-science and whatnot, but this film is just about the sheer fun of watching people and things shrink or grow.
And in that respect, it is seriously fun and clever. Both Scott and Hope turn into super-strong beings the size of ants, but they also have an incredibly high-tech laboratory that shrinks to the size of rolling luggage, a Hot Wheels case full of cars that can pop to full size and constantly improvised size-shifting items that are hurled and otherwise weaponized. In a “cinematic universe,” where anything is possible anyway, this film still manages to constantly show us cool and inventive stuff. The only thing missing is a giant oatmeal cream pie.
The characters are great together, especially Evangeline Lilly as the impossible-to-impress Wasp, a heroine and a partner to Scott, the one who taught him how to fight in the first place. And amid the dazzling visual adventures, viewers will come to feel invested in real family relationships. Not as invested as they are in the gleeful sight of a giant Pez dispenser, maybe, but invested nonetheless.
Much tighter and better-paced than its predecessor, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” hits the ground running, and the plot features multiple bad guys converging to steal and exploit the Ant-Man technology for their own ends. One villain is a compelling and frightening figure named Ghost who needs the tech to survive, while greed drives crooked FBI agents and a swaggering criminal (Walter Goggins) to pursue our heroes.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” has zip, heart, humor and fabulously inventive action sequences that make action fun, and it is the most adorable movie, superhero or otherwise, you could hope to spend a summer evening watching. Two generations of Ant-Men and Wasps fight alongside one another and learn what it means to be family, and it is never less than utterly delightful.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is now playing at all listed multiplex theaters and Nexus Cinema Dining.