“Do you guys just put the word ‘quantum’ in front of everything?” asks Scott Lang, better known as Ant-Man, when genius researchers start talking scientific circles around him. “Quantum, quantum, quantum,” pretty much captures the pedestrian style of Ant-Man and The Wasp. Thankfully, Paul Rudd as Ant-Man is as engaging as ever. He almost single-handedly saves this sequel, which is genial enough but not nearly as much fun as the original.
Humourless in the first Ant-Man, Hope Van Dyne, the Wasp, hasn’t improved
In 2015, Ant-Man introduced Rudd as Scott, a talented burglar just out of prison and a devoted father to a young daughter. He’s a regular guy recruited by inventor Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to put on a suit that can make him insect-sized and occasionally gigantic, the better somehow to fight evil. But where the first film relied on Rudd’s brilliantly comic, everyman persona, the sequel has too little comedy and too much unspectacular action. It also has Evangeline Lilly as The Wasp, Ant-Man’s partner in fighting evil, who turns out to be a pallid heroine despite her high-voltage kicking and flying.
The film begins with Scott under house arrest, which is what he gets for fighting against Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War. Hank and his daughter, Hope, once again recruit Scott because they think Ant-Man can rescue Hank’s wife and Hope’s mother, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). Decades before, she “went subatomic,” shrinking and disappearing into a teeny-tiny other world. Timing is everything, because Scott has to make it back home before his probation officer discovers he’s gone.
Early on, there are some funny visual jokes. A giant ant is left at Scott’s house wearing his ankle monitor and living his life – playing drums, lounging on the sofa. Hank and Hope live and work in a fully-equipped lab, which conveniently shrinks and has a handle, so Hank can roll it along the street like a carry-on suitcase.
The plot is less inspired. Sonny (Walton Goggins) is a black marketer who wants to steal that lab, but he is a drab villain, a convenient excuse for the action. Hope slams his cohorts around a restaurant in her first appearance in the Wasp suit. Her superpowered uniform is a steely catsuit with wings, retro-looking and as dull as Hope herself. Humourless in the first Ant-Man movie, she hasn’t improved. It’s hard to imagine she’d have the wit to fall in love with Scott, which apparently she has.
The villain is less a character than a promising concept
The other major villain, Ghost, is a young woman named Ava (Hannah John-Kamen) whose molecules are flying apart, making her practically translucent. No wonder she’s cranky, but she is less a character than a promising concept.
As he evades the villains and attempts to go down the rabbit hole to save Janet, Scott gets big and small and big and small again, in a relentless, repetitive pattern. Cars zoom around San Francisco. There are kitschy touches, including a giant Hello Kitty Pez dispenser flying down the street.
Those special effects and CGI are smooth and swiftly efficient, but the film’s best moments have nothing to do with all that. Like the Guardians of the Galaxy films, with Chris Pratt, the Ant-Man series relies on its likable hero and its jokes rather than the explosive action of most Marvel movies. As it goes on, Ant-Man and The Wasp veers further away from humour, losing the identity that makes it special.
Goofy moments are scattered throughout, though. Scott and his gone-straight burglar friends, led by his old prison-mate Luis (Michael Pena), now run a company delightfully called X-Con Security. In one episode, Scott becomes medium-sized and sneaks into a school to retrieve something from his daughter’s backpack. It is Rudd’s frustrated, childlike posture that makes the scene work, not his size. And in the film’s comic high point, Janet manages to put an antenna in Scott’s head, which allows Rudd to hilariously channel her affectionate words and adoring looks at her long-lost husband and daughter.
Rudd had a hand in the screenplay (evidently not enough), along with four other writers including Chris McKenna and Erick Sommers, who wrote Spiderman: Homecoming. Peyton Reed directs the sequel much as he did the first: competently.
Young children may be amused at the tiny flying people and a giant-sized salt shaker. To them, it’s all new. Disappointed adults may wish that Scott had stayed under house arrest and made more of Rudd’s comic potential. They might agree with Lewis Carroll, who wrote of his heroine in Wonderland: “‘It was much pleasanter at home,’ thought poor Alice, ‘when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller.’”
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