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REVIEW — “Ant-Man and the Wasp”

Ant-Man and the Wasp is an enjoyable and appropriately small-scale Marvel romp, albeit one that shrinks in comparison to other recent Marvel Studios heavyweights.

Two years after Captain America: Civil War, ex-con and single father Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is days away from an end to his government-mandated house arrest — a consequence of his involvement in the team-splitting scuffle between Earth’s mightiest heroes, the Avengers, in a German airport.

Scott’s actions have strained his relationship with brilliant scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Pym’s daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who now operates as the high-flying Wasp with a super-powered suit of her own.

Two-year fugitives because of Scott’s defiance of the Sokovia Accords — Pym Tech was used to resist the government-imposed limitations on superheroes, making the father-daughter team accomplices, says do-gooder FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) — the trio are only reunited when Scott experiences visions of Hope’s long-lost mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), the original Wasp, who vanished into the elusive Quantum Realm thirty years earlier.

Scott, Hank, and Hope then turn their efforts to newly-developed technology — the Quantum Tunnel — to mount a desperate rescue of the missing Janet van Dyne. But when a mysterious new foe, Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), and a scheming Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) threaten the trio’s efforts, newly minted superhero partners Ant-Man and Wasp will have to work together to keep the unwieldy power of Quantum Energy — described as “the next gold rush” — out of the hands of their enemies.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is at its best when the film explores the dynamic of sometimes-lovers Scott and Hope — he’s a lovable goofball, she’s a rough-and-tumble badass — a dynamic mostly unchanged since 2015’s Ant-Man. Rudd and Lilly’s chemistry helps ground the super sequel, which — like its predecessor — foregoes lofty super-heroics in favor of a scaled-down, more personal adventure, one that comes as a particularly welcome breather after the massive cosmic scope of Avengers: Infinity War.

The mostly-contained Ant-Man and the Wasp does its thing in its own corner of the shared Marvel Cinematic Universe — the action takes place once again in San Francisco, with nary a mention of the Avengers, save for a here-and-there reference to the events of Civil War — and like Spider-Man: Homecoming or Black Panther, this Marvel blockbuster isn’t reliant on an end-of-the-world plot, or a plot that has far-reaching effects on the wider universe: it’s a lively day-in-the-life superhero adventure that doesn’t ask much of its audience, who have turned up to spend another two hours visiting what is arguably the most popular ongoing franchise in the universe.

Where Ant-Man and the Wasp often suffers is with its handling of certain characters: where Lilly’s Hope van Dyne often shines, as does fast-talking new business owner Luis (Michael Peña), Rudd’s Scott Lang often feels shoved into the background of his own movie, while one little-seen franchise newcomer feels more like a breathing plot device than a character.

What stands out as Ant-Man and the Wasp’s biggest flaw is new phasing-enemy Ghost: John-Kamen handles herself well with what she’s given, but the character has the misfortune of having to follow a succession of bad guys who have proven to be among the best of Marvel Studios’ storied 20-movie filmography.

John-Kamen’s Ghost trails Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s Ego (Kurt Russell), Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Vulture (Michael Keaton), Thor: Ragnarok’s Hela (Cate Blanchett), Black Panther’s Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), and — best of all — Avengers: Infinity War’s Thanos (Josh Brolin), and even without comparing her to these heavy hitters, “ghost” ends up being an accurate descriptor for the character: she’s lifeless and shallow, despite a tragic origin story, and is just there. It’s particularly disappointing coming off Marvel’s recent trend of strong, well-defined, and memorable antagonists.

What ends Ant-Man and the Wasp in a major mid-credits scene is a massive hook for the still-unnamed Avengers 4 — opening May 3, 2019 — confirmed to see appearances from Ant-Man and Wasp after the pint-sized heroes sat out Avengers: Infinity War.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: ★★★½ / ★★★★★

Directed by Peyton Reed and starring Paul Rudd, Evangline Lilly, Hannah John-Kamen, Michael Pena, Randall Park, Walton Goggins, Judy Greer, Abby Ryder Fortson, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Michael Douglas, Ant-Man and the Wasp opens July 6.

 

 

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