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Part of what makes Marvel movies so dominant in today’s film culture is that despite their many superheroes co-mingling in the same universe, they mostly offer individual tones and character traits. If earnest Captain America and Black Panther explore serious political debates, and bad-boys Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy rock out with loopy, roguish humor, then Ant-Man—the only headlining hero who is also a parent—stands out for his small-scale, every-dad values. Think of him as the George Bailey of the Avengers.
His first movie buzzed with a light, low-stakes wittiness bolstered by a worthwhile, if not especially deep, theme. The second follows the same pattern, and if it weren’t for a smattering of infrequent but noticeable PG-13-level language, Ant-Man and the Wasp would be the perfect superheroes to save the whole family from the summer heat for a couple of hours.
Scott Lang, played by the supremely likable Paul Rudd, was always a good guy at heart. But in the first film, whenever difficulty arose, he tried to take the easy path out of financial and fatherly troubles. Having conquered his criminal impulses by becoming the Ant-Man, we find now in his second outing that Scott still possesses a certain resistance to big government.
We catch up with him two years after Captain America: Civil War, where his decision to side with Cap against international regulation of the Avengers has cost him. He’s now determined to finish the sentence of house arrest he received for violating the Sokovia accords no matter what it costs him. It’s when he finds out how much it’s costing others that his resolve waivers.
It seems Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope are also on the run as a result of Scott’s actions and now have to buy their research tech from shady arms dealers rather than legit sources. As rogue agents, they can turn only to Scott for help in rescuing Pym’s wife and Hope’s mother (Michelle Pfieffer) from the quantum zone where she disappeared after shrinking to a molecular level.
Further complicating matters is a mysterious figure known as “the ghost” who is after Pym’s quantum invention for her own unexplained reasons.
If all this seems a little convoluted, don’t worry. The plot is just a rack on which director Peyton Reed spins all his colorful, crazy plates. As Ant-Man himself quips, “Are you guys just putting the word quantum in front of everything?”
The real fun is watching the amazing shrinking set pieces and the romance building between Rudd and Evangeline Lilly as Hope, aka The Wasp, in a way that’s the more delightful because it’s limited to a couple kisses. In between, Scott’s crew of barely reformed buddies, led by the hilarious Michael Pena, keep the laughs rolling.
Perhaps it’s because Rudd himself co-wrote both films that the stories capitalize so well on the uniquely shlubby appeal of Ant-Man. He’s a guy who longs to drop an arrogant one-liner like Tony Stark but knows he won’t be able to pull it off. And we love him all the more for it.
What else we love—while there may be a lot of action, it’s all virtually bloodless and almost none of it is marred by dark imagery. Even the lone “torture” scene is hilarious.
Without revealing any spoilers, Ant-Man and the Wasp takes a refreshing tack with its villain as well. No one’s trying to rule or destroy the world here. And in the end, our heroes find that it is kindness that will lead to repentance, an uplifting message for viewers of all ages.