"ANT-MAN AND THE WASP" — 3½ stars — Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, __Michael Pena,Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer; PG-13 (some sci-fi action violence); in general release__
You could make a legitimate argument that the funny Marvel movies are the best Marvel movies.
Franchises such as "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Ant-Man" and now, "Thor," have a way of capturing the spirit of comic book superheroes that often elevates them above their more serious peers. Gritty and dark makes sense for "Batman," but too often it feels artificial elsewhere.
But even if you prefer the sweeping drama of "Infinity War," there's no debating that Paul Rudd's role as Ant-Man is at the very least a welcome breath of fresh air. The first "Ant-Man" in 2015 was an understated joy, and Peyton Reed's "Ant-Man and the Wasp" keeps that tiny ball of dung rolling.
Speaking of "Infinity War," these days you need to keep all the timelines in mind if you don't want to get lost in continuity issues. "Ant-Man and the Wasp" takes place just before last spring's epic showdown with Thanos and springs more from the aftermath of "Captain America: Civil War" in 2016. It's been two years since Scott Lang (Rudd) joined Team Cap for a battle royale on a German airport, and the everyman hero is just about to finish off 24 months of house arrest.
While Lang has been trying to fill his time entertaining his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), his old comrades Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) — who are still steamed that Lang ran off with the Ant-Man suit to go fight in Germany — have been pursuing a project: rescue Hope's long-lost mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm.
Fans of the first film will remember that if you shrink yourself down too far, you become subatomic and can get lost forever in miniature oblivion. That's what happened to Janet when Hope was just a child, but after seeing Lang return from the Quantum Realm safely, Hope and her father believe they might be able to get Janet back.
Unfortunately, Team Pym isn't the only party interested in the Quantum technology. Thanks to her childhood mishap, a mysterious villain named Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) has developed the ability to "phase" in and out of different states of matter, and she's willing to do whatever is necessary to obtain the technology she believes will fix her problem.
To combat Ghost, Lang is forced to risk prison to team up with Pym and Hope — who, with her miniaturization suit, becomes the Wasp.
It isn't the most elaborate conflict, especially coming on the heels of the universe-threatening menace of Thanos' purple beefcake, but it's a perfect fit for the campy humor and high energy of Rudd's standalone world. The first film thrived on the way its comedy informed its action — remember Ant-Man fighting the Yellowjacket on a miniature train set?— and "Ant-Man and the Wasp" offers much more of the same.
Rudd's comic skills are perfectly complemented by that official Ant-Man Secret MVP, Michael Pena, who returns as Lang's fast-talking, glaze-eyed sidekick Luis. A full-on buddy comedy with these two would be a blast.
If "Ant-Man and the Wasp" has a weak point, it's in the antagonist department (Walton Goggins steps in as an unethical black market dealer who also wants to steal Pym's technology). The stakes aren't nearly as high (pun slightly intended) as with the other Marvel films. Though, if we're being honest, the stakes are never all that high in the superhero genre, no matter how many world-smashing heavies show up to flex their megalomaniacal muscles.
Overall, "Ant-Man and the Wasp" is another great example of what comic book movies should be: a good time.
"Ant-Man and the Wasp" is rated PG-13 for some sci-fi action violence; running time: 118 minutes.