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Marvel is the dealer and we are the addicts; "Ant-Man and the Wasp" gives us our fix

By: Steve Pulaski

Deadpool 2 and Ant-Man and the Wasp being released so soon after Avengers: Infinity War makes a lot of sense. Given the gravity of the penultimate installment in the biggest superhero team-up movie ever, these two comparably light, airy features make for a good breather as things might intensify even more. With that, this sequel has all the things you'd like an Ant-Man sequel to have: charm, consistency, banter, and inconsequential amusement that acceptably sustains 118 minutes.

When Ant-Man was released three years ago, I welcomed it with open arms wider than many, I assume. By that time, I was beginning to be fatigued by the onslaught of familiar Marvel heroes, and anxiously anticipated a change of pace brought forth by a hero with whom I was unfamiliar. Despite the much-publicized directorial shakeup that had Edgar Wright leaving the project to Down with Love director Peyton Reed, the instability behind the scenes didn't appear to have a notable effect on the final product. "Ant-Man is one of the strongest films of Marvel's recent superhero batch," I wrote, less grammatically perfect than I would've liked. I called it "less predictable" and "more centered on the kind of free-wheeling fun from which superhero films should stem." But my biggest point was again directed towards the lack of familiarity the character had with general audiences. Because most went into Ant-Man with no expectations, Reed, Paul Rudd, and Marvel could fool around a bit without having to fear intense backlash. Put simply, the world is a lot more forgiving if you alter the narrative of Ant-Man than if you were to steer Captain America in a totally different direction.

Ant-Man and the Wasp, however, comes with more expectations attached, plus the burden of familiarity with the character and some of those on his side. The good news is that the gang is mostly back together, right down to Michael Peña and rapper T.I. returning in their respective roles. If you're content with a rendezvous less impacting than what the Marvel Cinematic Universe has delivered as of late but a product as entertaining as anything they've released since the original Deadpool, I won't stand in the way of your satisfaction.

The film reintroduces us to Scott Lang (Rudd) as he is nearing the end of his two-year house arrest on account of the events inCaptain America: Civil War. He has a dream about Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), a woman who used her costume's shrinking abilities to finagle molecules, at one point rendering herself unable to return to her normal, human stature. It just so happens that Henry Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Janet's husband and daughter, respectively, have been working to bring Janet back. While using Scott, who has an even greater link to Janet, to assist in the process, Hope is seen to have powers beyond her wildest dreams; she can shrink down in size and become the flying hero, Wasp. The rise of the predictable villain, known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), hellbent on stealing Pym's technology, results in Scott having to return to being Ant-Man while still under house arrest. His convict friends, namely Luis (Peña), provide some assistance in integral moments, as does one of his former colleagues who is now a professor on quantum theories (Laurence Fishburne).

Ant-Man and the Wasp bears resemblance visually to other recent Marvel efforts, such as Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, although not as mystical as the former nor as psychedelic as the latter. Most of this comes from Reed and the five writers' decisions to flirt with the subatomic world where quantum physics and the laws of nature can be manipulated. This sequel doesn't do quite enough with the idea, in my opinion, which leaves me all the more optimistic, especially thanks to a really good mid-credits stinger, that the third installment in this series will fully embrace the concept. The feature's biggest strength is its ambitious and largely successful convergence of the "serious" side of Marvel's aesthetic, embraced by its copious television dramas, and the comic fodder created by its prankster characters. Lilly's Wasp remains the level-headed voice of reason as both Scott and (primarily) Luis inspire enough mischief to float two movies.

It might shock some to learn that the standout of the film is indeed Peña, who has a brilliant, breakneck scene involving "truth serum" that stands as one of the best Marvel movie-moments of the year (right along Deadpool's "George Dubya" quip in his respective sequel). To boot, the action has some dimension given the fluctuations of characters and vehicle-sizes that keep things impressively kinetic. Compared to the stakes set up by Avengers: Infinity War, for some, Ant-Man and the Wasp's shenanigans will feel like weightless fodder given all that's at stake. However, Marvel has taught us yet again that even when they're embracing the lighter installments and sequels of their characters, they can provide both a good, serviceable time at the movies. By now, Marvel is comfortable in their role as the dealer, with their films as the drugs, and we are comfortable in our role as the addicts. Ant-Man and the Wasp gives us our fix enough to hold us over for what's next.

Grade: B

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