FILM REVIEW – ANT-MAN AND THE WASP. With Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Pena. Written by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari. Directed by Peyton Reed. Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi action violence. 118 mins.
Yes, this year we’re being inundated with superhero movies, but not all of them are the same. “Avengers: Infinity War” is a key chapter in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” paying off storylines that have been set up in numerous films over several years. It’s an impressive achievement as narrative even if you’re not particularly invested in it. On the other hand, “Black Panther” was a film that should be seen even if you have no interest in superhero movies in general. In terms of character, plot, art direction, and performance, it is truly one of the best films of the year.
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP doesn’t fall into either of those categories, instead landing in another: it is the most fun to be had on screen so far this year. For a summer movie, having high entertainment value is a definite plus. With a top-notch cast and exceptionally witty script, this is pure fun.
A follow-up to the 2015 “Ant-Man,” it continues the story of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who has inherited the role of Ant-Man – wearing a suit that can shrink him to minuscule size – from Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Scott is near the end of two years of house arrest for violating rules governing superheroes, but now he has been removed by his old girlfriend Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who is both Hank’s daughter and “The Wasp.” It seems Scott has somehow come into contact with Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), Hope’s mother, who was lost on a mission many years ago in a sub-atomic space. Hank and Hope believe that Scott is key to rescuing Janet, who they thought had died.
That’s all the plot you’re going to get because the screenplay – credited to five writers including Rudd – juggles a half-dozen stories as the characters work at overlapping and cross-purposes. These include Ava (Hannah John-Kamen), who is suffering from a bizarre condition and needs the technology that Hank has been developing to rescue his wife, Sonny (Walton Goggins) who has been supplying Hank with illegal tech and now wants a piece of the action, and Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne) who is an old rival of Hank’s whose motives aren’t entirely clear. Adding to the confusion is Scott’s security agency, headed by Luis (Michael Peña), and the FBI agents supervising Scott and looking for Hank and Hope led by Jimmy Woo (Randall Park). It is to the credit of director Peyton Reed that the storytelling never gets confusing.
What makes the film work are three elements. First, this is a great cast. From major stars to character actors to up-and-comers, they have fun with their roles without condescending to them. Second, this is a film with heart. Several of the plots have to do with parent (or quasi-parent) relations with daughters, including Scott not wanting to mess up his situation and lose access to Cassie (the comically adorable Abby Ryder Fortson). Third, the special effects are impressive without overwhelming the story, even if – scientifically – they make no sense. When Hank shrinks an office building to the size of a suitcase, there’s no reason it should now weigh no more than a suitcase. Like a Road Runner cartoon, the laws of physics have been suspended here.
“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is the most fun you’re likely to have at the movies this summer. And if you are committed to the Marvel Comics Universe, you’ll know not to leave until you’ve seen all of the closing credits.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.