After the dark conclusion to “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp” comes as a much needed palate cleanser. The sequel to 2015’s “Ant-Man” is a light and breezy detour from the high-stakes world-saving adventures often depicted in other Marvel tentpole franchises like “Captain America” and “Thor.”
Paul Rudd returns as Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man, an ex-thief-turned-unlikely-hero thanks to a size-changing super suit. Following the events of 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War,” Scott is back in San Francisco living under house arrest, a consequence of joining Cap’s superhero resistance that fractured the Avengers and turned half the team into fugitives. Rather than join them on the lam and risk never seeing his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) again, Scott chose to remain in custody when Cap broke the rest of the team out.
The film opens on Scott’s final day of house arrest. Having served his two years without incident, he reluctantly suits up to help the original Ant-Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) rescue his wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Zone, a subatomic realm where she has been trapped for more than 30 years. Joining in the mission is Pym’s daughter and Scott’s ex-girlfriend Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who now has her own incredible shrinking suit and goes by her mother’s old codename Wasp.
Their plan is complicated by the meddling of an intangible villain named Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) and black-market arms dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), both of whom are after Pym’s technology. Further complicating Scott’s situation is FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), who’s determined to catch Scott violating the conditions of his arrest and throw him back in jail for 20 years.
While Burch is mostly one-note — albeit an entertaining note thanks to the always great Goggins — John-Kamen’s Ghost becomes more sympathetic as we learn about her unfortunate backstory. She’s also earned the sympathy of Pym’s onetime colleague Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), whose willingness to aid her is tested by her increasingly ruthless tactics.
Director Peyton Reed once again shows his skill as a visual storyteller. The film is fast-paced and entertaining with clever, visually exciting set pieces that play with scale and perspective as characters and objects shrink and grow within the frame. A fantastic car chase through the vertiginous streets of San Francisco turns into a size-changing game of hot potato as the film’s McGuffin is tossed from one character to another.
Reed is aided by a strong script that takes full advantage of the assembled cast of comedic actors. Rudd is charming as ever as he attempts to sweet talk Lilly’s Hope and struggles to keep up with the Pyms’ super-science jargon. The awkward antagonistic banter between he and Park’s Woo is also a lot of fun. Michael Peña, however, steals every scene he’s in as Scott’s fast-talking friend Luis. A series of flashbacks narrated by Luis are laugh-out-loud funny.
The story also takes time to deepen Scott’s relationship with his daughter Cassie. Family is a big theme throughout the film, from Hank and Hope’s struggle to reunite theirs to Bill’s sense of fatherly responsibility to Ghost. Cassie remains Scott’s constant, and while he doesn’t want to risk going back to jail, it’s her belief in him as a hero that compels him to take that risk by helping the Pyms.
While the stakes are high for Scott and the Pyms, the story is small in scale — sometimes literally. However, that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. Indeed, that self-contained aspect is the strength of the “Ant-Man” franchise. Let Cap and Iron Man do the heavy lifting; Ant-Man should occupy the laid-back, wise-cracking, slacker corner in the otherwise self-serious Marvel Cinematic Universe.