I’m starting to feel like Disney is doing to movies what casual-dining chain restaurants did to the American culinary scene — don’t want to eat at an inexplicably Australian-themed steakhouse? Why not try the same company’s seafood restaurant? It’s on the same interstate off-ramp. Don’t like Solo? Here, have some Ant-Man and shut up already. But even as weary as I’ve grown of Disney’s and Marvel’s painfully predictable proficiency — and my fatigue is only likely to deepen if their acquisition of Fox goes through — Ant-Man and the Wasp is still a refreshing change of pace following the stolid cynicism of Avengers: Infinity War.
As was true of director Peyton Reed’s prior entry in the MCU canon, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a far more upbeat story operating on a smaller scale than its counterparts (if you’ll forgive some light shrink punning). Unlike 2015’s Ant-Man, this time Reed isn’t laboring under a cloud of fan backlash at the departure of Edgar Wright from that film’s helm, meaning that Ant-Man and the Wasp should ostensibly be easier to judge on the basis of its own merits without the burden of speculation over what could’ve been. And what winds up on the screen has plenty to recommend it, with Reed recapturing the comedic tone and human element that made the previous film such a surprising crowd-pleaser.
This time around the focus is shifted from Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang to a story more generally rooted in family dynamics as much as superhero spectacle. The premise revolves around Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) renewing their efforts to rescue the former’s mother and the latter’s wife, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm. The details of how she became trapped there were covered via flashback in the first Ant-Man, but they’re recounted more fully here for anyone who might have missed that one. What’s important, though, is that it sets up the core emotional drama, an examination of daddy-daughter bonds that reverberate through multiple relationships in the film.
Despite Ant-Man and the Wasp’s central familial drama, it still sports the requisite action set pieces that define the superhero subgenre, and they’re some of the most inventive and technically polished in the MCU to date. The visual effects work here is nothing short of remarkable, from Pym’s shrinking office building that could double as a carry-on bag to the nearly flawless de-ageing of Pfeiffer and Douglas in a flashback sequence. Under Reed’s ministrations, the conjunction of his background as a comedy director and the massive digital artistry resources at his disposal leads to some of the most effective visual gags in recent memory.
Is Ant-Man and the Wasp a life-changing, must-see movie? Absolutely not. Does it impact the status quo of the MCU the way that Infinity War did? Also no, but don’t skip the midcredits stinger. Sure, it may lack the element of surprise that benefited its predecessor, but it shares the lighthearted sense of understatement that distinguished Ant-Man from other films of its ilk. It’s an upbeat, funny and engaging picture that seamlessly blends humor and heart, spectacle and sentiment, all without taking itself too seriously. It’s not a four-Michelin-star experience, but it’s better than a Bloomin’ Onion. Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi action violence.
Now Playing at AMC River Hills 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville, The Strand Waynesville.