Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Review: "Ant-Man and the Wasp"

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is, “When do you think the superhero genre is going to burn out?” And my answer is always the same, “When the movies get crappy.”

I’ve seen a subpar flick here and there (*cough* *cough* “Green Lantern”), but overall the state of the superhero movie remains strong. Marvel in particular seems to consistently have their ducks all in a row, with nary a stinker in over a decade. And, with “Avengers: Infinity War” earlier this summer, they still possess the ability to surprise and overwhelm us.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is the perfect counterprogramming -- or, if you will, antidote -- to all the downbeat energy that’s been dominating the genre lately.

Here is a fun, frivolous and amusing movie featuring a hero who’s several steps down from the world-beaters like Thor and Hulk. And the stakes are not the usual end-of-the-world scenarios, but simply a small group of people striving to meet personal (though largely benevolent) goals.

You may remember that Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) was a petty criminal who stumbled into the super-suit of scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), which has the ability to shrink him to the size of an ant, where he gains strength and the ability to command the insects. Long story short, he got in trouble and ended up losing it all.

As this movie opens, he is nearly finished with two years of house arrest, having to wear an ankle bracelet and being annoyed by the uppity FBI agent assigned to watch him (Randall Park). But he again falls back in with Pym and his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who wears her own version of the suit that includes wings.

Their mission is to bring back Pym’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), who disappeared 30 years ago when she had to “go sub-atomic” to defuse a nuclear missile, and as a result was trapped in some quantum netherworld.

The villain is Hannah John-Kamen as Ava, aka the Ghost, who wears an alien-looking white suit and has the ability to phase in and out of solidity, so she can walk through walls and have bullets or fists pass right through her. Turns out her powers are more a curse than blessing, so she’s working on a cure along with Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), an old scientist rival of Pym’s.

The two groups soon butt heads, along with the X-factor of Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), a criminal technology dealer who wants to steal Pym’s machines and sell them to the highest bidder.

Pym and Hope are officially on the lam, but are able to move around with the help of a multistory laboratory they can shrink down to dollhouse size, pick up and go. They also have a fleet of vehicles they keep shrunk down in an old Hot Wheels carrying case.

Rudd is a twinkly, funny presence as the lovable cad. His greatest desire is to spend time with his daughter, though he’s holding out hope for Hope. Michael Peña supplies much of the comedic energy as Luis, Scott’s right-hand man at the security company startup they’re running. Apparently it’s a novel idea to put a bunch of ex-cons in charge of protecting you.

Directed by Peyton Reed from a script by an overlarge bunch of writers, who I’ll not mention other than to say Rudd is among them, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” boasts lots of energy and action. You kind of have to wade through a bunch of scientific mumbo-jumbo -- quantum entanglements, diffusers, etc. -- to get to the good stuff, but fortunately the boring stuff doesn’t linger.

This is not the sort of movie you savor and think about long after. It’s more of a breezy popcorn flick that does its job, entertains you and then gets out of the way.

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