How do you recover from Avengers: Infinity War? Audiences are still a little tenderized after the mass whittling of Marvel’s superhero ranks (and for those that said it doesn’t really count because no one stays dead in comics, we all saw you crying). So the obvious solution is to bring back everyone’s favorite inadvertent hero, Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man. Back when the original Ant-Man was released in 2015, Paul Rudd’s working-class zero was supposed to be the death knell for Marvel, but the raucous crime caper comedy opened new doors to the mega-franchise. However, when he returns to the screen after his last adventure, backing up Cap (his friends call him Cap) as an honorary avenger in Captain America: Civil War, life hasn’t been that kind to Lang. He’s out of super-hyper-max submerged prison the Raft, but he’s under house arrest, he’s trying to get a security firm off the ground with his bumbling buddies (Dastmalchian, T.I., and the micro-franchise's secret weapon, the megamouth Peña) and Hope van Dyne (Lilly) has had enough of his irresponsible ways. At least he still has his adoring daughter Cassie (Ryder Fortson), and it’s only two days until his ankle bracelet comes off.
Of course, this is when trouble comes knocking, direct from the Quantum Realm. Hank Pym (Douglas, channeling his finest inner curmudgeon) and Hope want what’s in his head – the possible whereabouts of Janet van Dyne (Pfeiffer), missing in the space between atoms for 30 years. But they’re not the only people with agendas: high-level fence Sonny Burch (Goggins, as irrepressibly sleazy as ever) wants all that delicious tech, and the mysterious Ghost (John-Kamen), who can slip between realities, is after the lost van Dyne for her own nefarious reasons. Meanwhile, Lang’s biggest concern is making sure that FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Park) doesn’t know he’s breaking curfew and turning back to his micro adventuring ways.
It’s no spoiler to say this is before Thanos wishes really hard, so the brakes are off for the same kind of giddy adventures in science as the first film, with added giant ants. Returning director Peyton Reed slides straight back into action, and doesn’t bother ladeling on more exposition – after all, if the audience is baffled by the odd burst of techno-babble, that’s fine, because so is Lang. Peña is yet again a glorious scene-stealer (you’ll be replaying his truth serum waterfall of words for months), but Rudd remains the heart and soul by stepping back and letting everyone else fill the room. He’s one of the great modern straight men, but when he lets rip, as in one rip-snorting exchange with Woo, it’s a quick-witted back-and-forth that’s easily as funny as a drumming ant, or any of Reed’s sight-gag-heavy action sequences.
But this is also Marvel’s first co-headlined feature (hey, it’s Thor: Ragnarok, not Thor and Loki), and so Lilly gets more of a chance to shine. In the original, she was Lang’s foil, kept in check by her father because he didn’t want to lose her to his crazy tech. This time, the Wasp is the more straight-ahead hero, genius scientist, and bona fide ass-kicker (as Lang laments, why didn’t he get wings and blasters?), without ever pushing Ant-Man and the Wasp into the high drama of, say, Black Panther. This is the science nerd and gray-collar criminal brigade, and Lilly and Douglas (as sparky a father-daughter duo as Lilly and Rudd are as sparring partners) keep it emotionally grounded. After all, that’s what Marvel films are always about. Yes, the action sequences are hilarious, and yes, the design department gets to cut gloriously loose with the kaleidoscopic, shifting microverse of the Quantum Realm, but this is first and foremost about family. Reed gets laughs from Lang’s antics as he tries not to get caught out of the house by Woo, but you never forget that he’s a good father who worries he’ll mess up by violating his parole. The world may be small, but the heart, action, and laughs are big. Plus, start demanding your tardigrade action figure now. Science, kids.
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