The best way to follow a movie as big, heavy and exhausting as “Avengers: Infinity War” is to leap in the opposite direction. Sure enough, Marvel’s latest adventure, “Ant-Man and The Wasp” ditches the universe-destroying Infinity Stones in favor of small stakes and a couple of incredibly tiny heroes.
A sequel to the 2015 origin story, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” takes place before the events of “Infinity War” (mostly), giving returning director Peyton Reed and his team the freedom to further explore the more comedic corners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It operates as a madcap heist movie, where several characters, some superpowered, bounce off each other in an effort to steal/keep/protect a very unique rolling suitcase.
Even with the introduction of several new adversaries, “Ant-Man and The Wasp” is fast, fun and refreshingly uncomplicated. It rides on the charming dynamic between Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly as Scott Lang/Ant-Man and Hope van Dyne/Wasp, respectively. Lilly especially shines as her character finally gets a powerful supersuit of her own and much-deserved equal billing.
The film opens with Scott Lang pushing through the last few days of house arrest (a consequence of his scene-stealing antics in “Captain America: Civil War”). His former colleagues Hope and OG Ant-Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) are fugitives working to obtain the necessary tech to attempt a rescue mission of Hope’s mom, Janet (Michelle Pfieffer). She’s spent the last 30 years in the Quantum Realm, a really really small place where shrinking heroes can go to do especially dangerous heroing. When Scott begins experiencing vivid visions of Janet, he reluctantly joins their quest.
Standing in the way are a criminal tech dealer played with the usual gusto by Walton Goggins, Scott’s friendly-enough parole officer (Randall Park) and a mysterious costumed thief who can “phase” through solid objects. This Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) believes she can cure her uncontrolled phasing with a visit to Janet in the quantum realm.
If all that sounds like nonsense, remember the “Ant-Man” franchise also features mega-smart insects both big and small, as well as numerous sight gags of little things getting big and big things getting little. It helps again to have some truly remarkable special effects selling these absurd moments as proper big screen spectacle. The material is taken seriously enough to forward an engaging plot, but it also understands the importance of keeping everything loose and comedically rooted.
Rudd continues to be a strong anchor for humor, but Lilly sells both the lighthearted elements and her character’s impressive combat skills. The movie includes plenty of Wasp-beating-down-bad-guys scenes, and it’s consistently delightful every time.
Michael Pena also returns as Scott’s business partner, a kind-hearted motormouth who’s always thrilled to be even tangentially involved in the adventure. His character gets more to do here and in return he provides the film’s biggest laughs.
With the cast so uniformly spirited, the only real drag on the film is Hank’s more serious approach to finding his wife. The first film leaned on Douglas to give the goofy premise some gravitas. He’s doing that again, of course, but it feels a little more out of place with the film’s crazier moments.
Until the inevitable post-credits “Infinity War” connection, “Ant-Man and The Wasp” clicks as a boisterous stand-alone blockbuster. It won’t have much lasting impression on the greater MCU, but its singularity functions as welcome cinematic comfort food in a summer blockbuster season too short on fun.
Tyler Wilson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org