Ant-Man and the Wasp

The biggest little superhero

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp has a pleasingly breakneck, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t surreal glee. It’s a cunningly swift and delightful comedy of scale, in which Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), that quipster mensch of a convict-turned-superhero (has there ever been a movie criminal this nice?), shoots around in his miniaturizing metal suit like the world’s tiniest gadfly, only to loom up as large as Godzilla. Either way, he always has time to deliver a line like “Do you really just put the word quantum ahead of everything?” The answer is: Yes. Ant-Man and the Wasp is a fantasy of mutating matter in which buildings collapse into Monopoly toys, a Hello Kitty Pez dispenser is inflated into a freeway battering ram, and the most fearless of the characters is injected into an ocean of psychedelic subatomic protoplasm.

The director, Peyton Reed, also made the first Ant-Man (2015), but at the time he’d never helmed a special-effects blockbuster before, and his inexperience showed. He jammed comedy, action and origin-story mythology into a film that had more amiable spirit than craft. In Ant-Man and the Wasp, Reed keeps the entire movie—one-liners, Macy’s parade effects, hand-to-insect-wing combat—spinningly aloft. Always an inspired director of comedy (Down with Love, Bring It On), Reed has learned how to operate the heavy machinery of a Marvel superhero movie yet keep it all light and fast and dizzying. His combat scenes don’t overpower. They’re well spaced out and actually make visual sense, like a hypnotic one early on in which Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), aka the Wasp, confronts a pack of goons in a restaurant kitchen by popping in and out of micro size, sliding along the edges of a tossed carving knife only to burst into her full ninja self to deliver the knockout blows.

Yet part of the fun of Ant-Man and the Wasp is that you don’t have to pretend there’s anything cosmic at stake. How could you? The plot is an elaborate throwaway. Rudd’s Scott Lang is doing all he can to be a good divorced daddy to his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston). As he lip-syncs and digital drums his way through his last few days of house arrest, he is lifted out of his predicament by Dr. Hank Pym, the physicist and former S.H.I.E.L.D member played, once again, by a triumphantly disgruntled Michael Douglas, in a silver coif and goatee, who bites down into the role of this cuttingly tormented science geek.

Hank won’t rest until he extracts his wife, Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), from the Quantum Realm, where she’s been miniaturized and living for 30 years, ever since she sacrificed herself by going subatomic to defuse a bomb. Hank and their daughter, Hope, have built a tunnel that will theoretically transport them to the Quantum Realm. But the lab on which the project depends is also coveted by two forces of People We Don’t Want To Root For.

The first of them is Sonny Burch, a trafficker of black-market tech, played by Walton Goggins as the most unctuously literate of oily Dixie sleaze-hounds. Then there’s Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a quivering and alienated desperado who, after being damaged as a young girl in a lab accident presided over by her scientist father (a colleague of Hank’s), acquired the ability to phase through objects. Her powers are visually vivid yet a tad vague, and so is her goal: to use the lab to set herself free.

Hank and Hope’s desire to reunite with Janet is certainly understandable, and Michelle Pfeiffer has a lovely, wistful presence, yet the plot of Ant-Man and the Wasp is just a MacGuffin, a frame on which to hang the hijinks. The movie is all jokes and movement, fused by the spirit of transmogrification. Scott, who went down to the Quantum Realm before, has a bit of a mind-meld with Janet, which means that in one scene Paul Rudd literally channels Michelle Pfeiffer, and hilariously.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is a full two hours, yet even when it’s pulling out all the stops, the movie never gives you that sinking sensation you can get when a comic-book film’s extended climax kicks in, and you feel the visual effects army taking over. That’s because Peyton Reed invests every moment of the movie with personality. That’s not quite the same thing as humanity. But it’s enough to qualify as the miniature version.

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