After the universe-destroying sturm und drang of “Avengers: Infinity War,” there is something really pleasant about the comparatively low stakes of “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” the second “Ant-Man” movie (wow, it’s weird that there was even one, let alone two), the year’s third Marvel Cinematic Universe movie and the 20th MCU flick over all.
Returning director Payton Reed and no fewer than five credited screenwriters deliver exactly what the title suggests. We’re working with heroes who can shrink to the subatomic and grow to kaiju size, so in “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” stuff gets small and stuff gets big. And it’s fun to watch.
You might recall from the previous “Ant-Man” that Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) became the titular hero thanks to the machinations of the original Ant-Man, a former government agent and scientist named Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, who in this new movie delivers a master class in phoning it in) who got Lang to steal the Ant-Man suit and fight a baddie named Yellowjacket. People shrank, ants were enlarged and we witnessed the single best use of the Cure ever in a motion picture.
You also might recall that Lang was recruited onto Captain America’s team during “Captain America: Civil War.” Cap’s team lost, and Lang went to jail.
In “Wasp,” it is sometime between “Civil War” and “Infinity War.” Lang has been under house arrest since the end of “Civil War,” and hooo-eee is he bored.
He is playing-drums-all-day bored, learning-close-up-magic bored and building-an-enormous-cardboard-playset- throughout-his-house-for-his-kid bored. Fortunately, he has only three days left of his sentence; then he can go to work for a security firm he launched with his former crew Luis (Michael Peña), Dave (Tip “T.I.” Harris) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian).
Unfortunately, events intervene in the form of Pym and Pym’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), both of whom are trying to find Hope’s long-lost mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), who vanished into the quantum realm many years ago. Lang has been to the quantum realm and survived, which means Janet might be alive as well, so Hank and Hope need Lang to maybe go back and find Janet … look, it really doesn’t matter that much (other than the fact that everyone says “quantum” so much they make fun of it in the script).
Also in the mix is Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), an old colleague of Pym’s who can’t stand him; a baddie called Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) with her own connection to the quantum realm; and a generic bad guy/fence person named Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins, wasted a little bit in the role).
The character work here is a bit better than most comic book movies. Peter Parker is oft-presented as the Hero Who Could Be You, but his genius-level intellect is as much as superpower as anything the radioactive spider gifted him with. No, the only regular dude is the MCU is Lang. He’s a nonviolent petty criminal who adores his daughter and has an ex-wife who is mildly embarrassed by him. He just wants to go straight. He wants to do the right thing, but at the end of the day, he’s just an in-shape guy in a super suit he didn’t build.
As Lang, Rudd communicates well that genuine desire to be a better guy and does a surprisingly good job opposite Abby Ryder Fortson, who plays his 10-year-old daughter, Cassie.
But the joy in these movies isn’t the larger universe, or the character work. It’s seeing big things become little and little things become big, be it the wheel-shaped Matchbox car case that carries all manner of transportation or the building that can shrink to the size of a roller bag, or an excellent sight gag involving a sweater that is far too large for its wearer. (Never mind that this franchise plays awfully fast and loose with mass and physics … what am I talking about? Who cares?)
No rending of cities in twain, no cosmic baddie who wants to destroy the universe, no Earth hanging in the balance. Just a bunch of stuff getting bigger or smaller. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is a fun-sized flick.
‘ANT-MAN AND THE WASP’
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña
Rating: PG-13 for some science-fiction action and violence
Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Theaters: Alamo Lakeline, Alamo Mueller, Alamo South, Alamo Village, Barton Creek, EVO, Galaxy, Gateway, Hill Country, Lakeline, Metropolitan, Moviehouse 620, Moviehouse Lantana, Pflugerville 20, Sky, Southpark, Stone Hill, Westgate. 3D: Alamo Mueller, Alamo Slaughter, Alamo South, Barton Creek, EVO, Galaxy, Gateway, Hill Country, Lakeline, Metropolitan, Pflugerville 20, Southpark, Stone Hill, Westgate. Imax: Barton Creek, Bullock, Gateway.