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Ant-Man and the Wasp
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by Jay Seaver

"Has all sorts of fun with its big and little ideas."
4 stars

"Ant-Man and the Wasp" is delightfully uncomplicated, as superhero movies go - its characters have missions to do what they see needs to be done, and the thing that drives them forward is by and large desperation and a ticking clock rather than malice. It brings in some basic villains to push things forward a little, but the filmmakers are by and large clever enough to recognize that those guys aren't really important. It's the cheerful opposite of conventional blockbuster wisdom, finding whimsy in small stakes rather than trying to be serious enough to match its apocalyptic possibilities.

It does start with the sort of big action these things usually end on, fleshing out the previous Ant-movie's flashback about the last mission of original Ant-Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and wife Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), the winsome Wasp - the one from which she never returned, having had to shrink down to quantum scale to short out a missile's guidance computer. She's still alive, though, able to send a telepathic message to Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who had previously done the same but come back. Problem #1: Lang is under house arrest for his previous actions as an unlicensed super-hero, and forbidden from contacting Hank and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Problem #2 is The Ghost (Hanna John-Kamen), an assassin who can walk through walls and is also looking for the tech Hank needs to get retrieve Janet - which brings them to Problem #3, Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), a black-market dealer who doesn't want to sell unless he can get a piece of whatever Hank is building.

There are five credited writers on this sequel, and whichever one came up with the idea of twist the heist formula so that Lang and his teams are trying to break into various items to steal a building (Hank's miniaturized lab) rather than the other way around deserves some sort of bonus. It's the sort of playful inversion that brings a smile to the audience's face every time they play with it - Hope not only has a miniaturized getaway car for every situation, but stores them in a Hot Wheels carrying case, while the inside of Hank's lab feels like a giant circuitry set with man-sized ants doing the work - challenging the audience to figure out just how a scene can play out and not needing an excuse for why the characters do it like this beyond someone thinking it would be fun.

Those writers and director Peyton Reed seldom stop to admire how clever they are in all of this, instead finding just enough tension to keep pushing forward, keeping things moving at a fast enough pace that a whole bunch of clocks hitting zero at the same time doesn't feel like a ridiculous coincidence so much as just one of those crazy days. Reed and his crew punctuate action with comedic bits that bring smiles to faces without undercutting the importance of what the characters are doing, and mix the look of the movie up in clever ways - Scott's at home in comfy everyman environments, Hope in high-tech but modish scenes (this subdued sleekness is a nice match for the comic-book Wasp's fashion-consciousness without seeming stereotypical), and Ghost with cool but imposing lines whose anonymity is often undercut by afterimages that show her at her most emotional. They save some of the best for last, though, not really going all-in on Hank Pym as a retro-futurist science adventurer until late, showing the audience that the cranky, discouraged guy that the audience has seen for the last two movies is hiding the one that looks like he was pulled straight out of Fantastic Voyage.

It's an approach that shows that the cast must feel a little more settled-in after the behind-the-scenes upheaval of the first movie - there's an easier chemistry between Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly than before, even though Janet spends the movie justifiably upset with Scott. Letting Rudd mostly be funny while Lilly handles more of the action lets both play more to their strengths. Michael Douglas makes an even better fit for Hank Pym's combination of hubris and regret, abrasive enough to explain a lot of bad blood but able to have his best brought out by Hope and Janet. Hannah John-Kamen is a great addition, giving Ghost a combination of ruthlessness and damage that makes her one of Marvel's more interesting adversaries quickly, while also proving a good match for Lilly in the action scenes. Michael PeƱa is a blast playing off everyone, and that's before padding that group out with Walton Goggins, Laurence Fishburne, Randall Park, and Michelle Pfeiffer (who had better get more to do in future movies).

The general good nature, wonder, and absurdity of it all culminate in one of Marvel's best finales yet, larger than life but not grandiose, a great fit for the story being told. The finale of this movie is a genuine master class of action, splitting time between two very different locations, including some of the most entertaining use of San Francisco's particular geography in years, forcing the characters to do things that can't easily be transplanted into a generic action movie, and never turning its back on the comedy and generally upbeat nature that got the movie to its climax.

It's enough fun that it's easy to forget that it's part of this other big thing, especially since the filmmakers save the inevitable "Avengers" tie-in for the middle of the credits. Marvel's recent move toward movies that stand better on their own two feet likely comes at least partly from the first "Ant-Man" nearly falling apart over the company trying to force everything into the same box, and it has done them a world of good. It makes this one a nifty, family-friendly caper that doesn't have to spend much time worrying about the end of the world.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=29784&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/07/18 10:59:58
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User Comments

7/12/18 Bob Dog Fun to see the actors, but the story was too obvious and lazy. 3 stars
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  06-Jul-2018 (PG-13)
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