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Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

DIRECTOR: Peyton Reed

CAST: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michael Pena, Hannah John-Kamen, Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer, Randall Park, T.I., David Dastmalchian, Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, Abby Ryder Fortson

REVIEW:

After the grim finale of The Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp could be viewed as a sort of palette cleanser.  The follow-up to 2015’s Ant-Man maintains the same lightweight insubstantial tone, served up with more nifty visuals and one of the highest humor quotients of any MCU movie.  The result is nowhere near among the MCU’s stronger offerings but is an enjoyable enough diversion, especially for those seeking something a little lighter staggering shell-shocked out of the theater after Infinity War.

Chronologically, Ant-Man and the Wasp is sandwiched somewhere after the events of Civil War but before Infinity War (part of why it’s able to get away with its lighthearted tone before the proverbial shit hits the fan).  Since ill-advisedly helping out a fugitive Captain America and causing his fair share of the destruction during the airport battle in Germany, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) is under house arrest with an ankle bracelet and counting down the days until he’s a free man again.  Of course, things don’t go according to plan when he’s forcibly re-recruited by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter and Scott’s ex-girlfriend Hope/The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) for help rescuing Hope’s long-lost mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), the original Wasp, from the quantum realm.  But there are a couple pesky plot complications in the forms of sleazy black market tech dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), who has something Pym and company need but doesn’t feel like playing fair, and Ava/Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a mysterious woman who needs Pym’s technology for her own purposes.

Ant-Man and the Wasp maintains the same mix of breezy action-comedy and visual wizardry as its predecessor, but has a somewhat higher energy level and entertainment value.  One-liners are tossed around fast and sharp, and there’s some nifty visual effects including Wasp taking out pursuing henchmen with supersized salt shakers and pez dispensers and Scott once again growing to mammoth proportions.  We also get a return to the trippy imagery of the revisited subatomic quantum realm.  Somewhat less effective is the digital de-aging used to restore Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Laurence Fishburne to their 1980s selves for flashback sequences.  This kind of special effect is increasingly often-used in recent years, with varying degrees of success, but here it doesn’t look quite right.  Maybe the likes of Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer already having been famous ’80s stars makes it trickier for their CGI recreations to pass muster when we already know their younger faces so well.  Most of the action isn’t especially memorable, but we get an engaging car chase sequence with Scott and Hope alternately pursuing and being pursued by Burch and his goons, with the pesky Ghost interfering with everyone.  As before, Scott gets himself into weird situations.  Ant-Man and the Wasp tells a mostly stand-alone story that doesn’t rely on drop-ins from other superheroes (something increasingly almost inevitable even in “solo” outings).  The events of Civil War are prominently referenced, but there’s no appearances from other superheroes, not even a cameo.

Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, and Michael Douglas slip comfortably back into their roles, and the chemistry among the cast is evident as they swap banter and one-liners with ease.  Also, as was teased at the end of Ant-Man, Lilly gets to join in the action this time (it’s worth noting that Ant-Man and the Wasp features both a female heroine and a female villain, both of whom do their share of butt-kicking).  Michael Pena returns as the comic relief sidekick, and manages to be less annoying this time (he gets another of his convoluted narrations).  T.I., David Dastmalchian, Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, and Abby Ryder Fortson are all back onboard, though they don’t get a lot of screentime.  Of the newcomers, despite an origin sob story and motives that are more desperate than villainous, Hannah John-Kamen (who’s clearly already on her way to getting typecast as a bad girl between this and Ready Player One) is underused, and Walton Goggins (playing his second unmemorable bad guy after Tomb Raider) is more of an annoying nuisance than a serious threat.  Ghost and Burch feel less like real relevant villains than obligatory complications tossed in at sporadic intervals to interfere with the main plot.  After playing Lois Lane’s boss Perry White in Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, Laurence Fishburne has jumped ship from DC to Marvel, but has basically traded one thankless role for another.  Speaking of thankless roles, while it’s nice to see Michelle Pfeiffer pop up in a high-profile movie again, her appearance amounts to little more than a glorified cameo.  Janet is basically the human MacGuffin driving the plot, and apart from an opening flashback, doesn’t show up until the eleventh hour.  Randall Park (who played a fictionalized Kim Jong Un in The Interview) supplies some comic relief as the FBI agent on Scott’s trail.

Ant-Man and the Wasp, like the first Ant-Man, is closer to bottom of the barrel than top tier among the MCU’s many installments thus far, but its refreshingly breezy tone is welcome after the apocalyptic events of Infinity War.  Actually, that might be subconsciously predisposing me to give it a warmer reception than I might have a few months ago.  In any event, it’s unlikely to be strongly remembered when all is said and done, but it’s an enjoyable diversion.

* * 1/2

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