Ant-Man and the Wasp: Bigger and Better, by David Bax

It’s starting to seem like the Marvel Cinematic Universe is just an excuse to perfect that time-reversing face CGI thing used to restore veteran movie stars to their youthful glory. In the latest installment, we get not one, not two but three Hollywood legends briefly appearing like they haven’t in years: Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer and Laurence Fishburne. The dream of the 90s is alive in Ant-Man and the Wasp. But that’s just one of the tricks director Peyton Reed has up his sleeve in this sequel that’s bigger, more inventive, funnier and more fun than its predecessor.

Under house arrest following the events of another movie that took place between Ant-Man installments, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is enjoying a healthy relationship with his daughter and is only days away from freedom when his former cohorts Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Douglas) show up, begrudgingly needing his help. They’ve built technology to allow themselves to visit the “quantum realm” in order to rescue Janet Van Dyne (Pfeiffer) and Scott–the only person to have been there and returned–may be required. Unfortunately, this new technology is also coveted by Pym’s former colleague Bill Foster (Fishburne) and a mysterious young woman known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who want to steal it for their own ends. The mix of welcome returning cast and new all-stars is mirrored behind the scenes, where Christophe Beck once again provides a propulsive score while the cinematography now comes from the legendary Dante Spinotti.

As with the previous film, Reed uses the shrinking and growing of people and objects for extended and ingenious bouts of physical comedy, like a bit where Scott’s suit shorts out partway through returning him to normal size and he has to pretend to be a child to get to safety. But Ant-Man and the Wasp also ratchets up the sillier, more cerebrally absurd sense of humor, wisely doubling down on the importance of Michael Peña’s Luis to both the plot and the tone of the movie. When a running gag about Morrissey’s “Everyday Is Like Sunday” pays off in an encore of the first movie’s highlight sequences in which other characters act out Luis’ version of events while lip-synching to his recollections, it’s clear that a franchise Reed inherited in partially developed form from another filmmaker (Edgar Wright was Ant-Man’s initial director) has now fully become his own.

Reed and his team of screenwriters (five of them, including Rudd) understand that good comedy requires specificity and truth, which is why nearly every character in the film, down to secondary villain Sonny Burch’s (Walton Goggins) henchmen, has their own personality. Randall Park, as the FBI agent tasked with monitoring Lang, is so funny that the movie becomes its own little odd couple buddy comedy whenever they’re together. The result is that the viewer never misses a character who’s off screen because whoever is on screen is entertaining in their own way. Unfortunately, Ant-Man and the Wasp once again wastes the talents of Judy Greer but, hey, this is a major studio movie and they all do that.

Just as most every character is utilized to their full potential, so is nearly every moment of screen time. Ant-Man and the Wasp is, on the one hand, a surprisingly heavily plotted movie with two different villains trying to get Hank’s technology for different reasons while Hank and Hope are pursuing their own goals and Scott is dealing with the FBI and his relationship with his daughter. On the other hand, this is a comedy and none of these narratives’ stakes ever get too high, lest they impede the laughs.

Make no mistake, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a comedy before it’s an action movie. But that doesn’t mean the action isn’t top notch. Two sequences—a fight in a hotel lobby/kitchen and a car chase—prove not only that Reed and company have chops but also that, in terms of heroics, the title might be in the wrong order, given that Lilly carries the load both times. Whether kicking ass or joking, the antics here are all fun. I can’t wait to see the new tricks in whatever’s next for these characters.

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