Combustible Celluloid
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With: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Tip "T.I." Harris, David Dastmalchian, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Randall Park, Michelle Pfeiffer, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Douglas
Written by: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari
Directed by: Peyton Reed
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sci-fi action violence
Running Time: 118
Date: 07/06/2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Small Time

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I guess I'd better admit it. I like my superhero movies on the lighter side. Though not a hard and fast rule, I tend like it more when heroes are able to crack a joke in the face of adversity, rather than brooding, Zack Snyder-style. I also love bold color, like in the comics I used to read as a kid, rather than the sludgy gray of certain other movies I don't need to mention. And so, while Ant-Man and the Wasp may seem to have very little at stake — it's not the emotional powerhouse that some of the other Marvel movies are — it's a sheer joy, a breath of fresh air.

The original Ant-Man (2015) was something of a happy accident, begun by the unique Edgar Wright, a filmmaker with a singular personality, and his co-writer Joe Cornish (himself the director of one terrific feature, Attack the Block). There were disagreements between filmmakers and studios, and Wright and Cornish were gone. Director Peyton Reed, who made the brassy cheerleader comedy Bring It On and the Doris Day-style romance Down with Love — both colorful films — was hired. Better still, star Paul Rudd and his writer/director Adam McKay (who worked with Rudd in both Anchorman films), re-wrote Wright and Cornish's script. All four writers retained credit, and it's a wonderful mash-up of talents, resulting in an exciting, bright, funny entertainment.

All that is gone here, though Rudd gets another screenwriting credit and Reed remains as director. Ant-Man and the Wasp is sillier, more smoothed-out, focused on teamwork. The two titular heroes are not the only ones who fight for good; there's a whole band of good guys here. As it begins, Scott Lang (Rudd) is under house arrest after joining Captain America in the battle against the accords in Captain America: Civil War. (Note: apparently Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye is serving the same kind of sentence, which is why they are among the heroes that did not appear in Avengers: Infinity War.) Scott has invented many ways to entertain his visiting daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), from magic tricks to elaborate cardboard forts.

In the tub, he has a dream about the psychedelic quantum realm, which he barely survived in the first film. He makes a kind of connection with Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), the original Wasp, who was lost in the realm many years earlier. Though Scott is on the outs with both Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), he calls them. At the same time, they have been attempting to reach the quantum realm, and Scott's connection came at the same moment that they turned on their new machine. So they kidnap Scott to find out what he knows, promising to have him back at home before his parole officer, FBI man Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), discovers him missing.

Of course, this does not go as planned. First, Hope makes an enemy of the slimy black market tech-dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), and then crosses paths with "Ghost" (Hannah John-Kamen, who is extraordinary), a mysterious creature that can phase through objects. All of these baddies — as well as the police and the FBI — are after Hank's quantum machine, which is inside a building that can be shrunk and carted off like a suitcase. Additionally, any time the FBI gets close to Scott, he must return home so as to avoid another stretch in jail for breaking his house arrest. This leads to several hand-offs as the building is snatched from one character after another, like a French drawing-room comedy. It includes lots of spectacular fights and chase scenes (and some sight gags) throughout San Francisco. They even crash cars on Lombard Street and do some damage at Pier 39.

Character-wise, Scott must somehow make it up to Hank and Hope, having angered them by taking off and fighting with Cap. Hank's fellow scientist Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne) also shows up to complicate matters, as well as Scott's ex-con pals from the first film, now joining forces to form a security company: Luis (Michael Peña), Dave (Tip "T.I." Harris), and Kurt (David Dastmalchian). These three manage to do almost as much harm as good (the "truth serum" scene is a riot), though inadvertently. Eventually, they become a pretty good ensemble, even though it tends to take away from the things that made Scott so appealing in the first film; he's no longer as desperate, or as edgy. In this, he's more like the Paul Rudd of his comedies and less like a superhero.

Reed, an uneven director at best, gets a little rudimentary in some of the humorous talking scenes, simply flipping back and forth between close-ups and sometimes strangling the comic timing, but — perhaps thanks to a crackerjack technical crew, the action scenes are delightful, zippy and springy; they leave you feeling exhilarated rather than exhausted. And the film clocks in at less than 2 hours — including a long credits sequence and the expected "bonus" scenes — and never wears out its welcome. Perhaps the genius of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that it mimics the energy of a great binge-worthy TV series, generating lovable characters and pitting them against high physical and emotional stakes. After I saw Ant-Man, he quickly became one of my favorite characters. Now he is less of a standout, but definitely one of the team.

Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise.

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