Ant-Man may be a second-string Marvel superhero (despite being a founder member of the Avengers in the team’s comic-book debut), but his self-deprecating manner and lack of pretension mean his goofy adventures have a winning quirkiness all their own. As the Marvel movie machine thunderously rolls on, threatening total domination over the blockbuster landscape, it’s good to know that there’s still room for such nimble dopiness and coolly absurd shenanigans as positioned by this light-hearted ace in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
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Some may prefer this less pompous approach, too. Thank star and co-writer Paul Rudd for that. The low-key humour he’s famous for finds its natural outlet in his Ant-Man persona, coupled with a pleasingly deadpan demeanour that strikes the perfect balance between silly, subversive and serious.
Ant-Man missed out on Avengers: Infinity War, so this second solo outing is importantly placed just after Captain America: Civil War (2016), when his alter ego Scott Lang is nearing the end of being put under house arrest by the FBI for his involvement in that bipartisan bust-up.
But, after a weird dream about the original Wasp, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), he is whisked off to the laboratory of former SHIELD member Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, in distinguished mode). Pym realises his wife Janet has found a connection to Scott, despite having been trapped in the Quantum Realm for 30 years after she sacrificed herself to defuse a bomb.
Hank won’t rest until he rescues his miniaturised wife from this psychedelic hell and, with his daughter Hope – aka the new Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) – has built a super-powered minimiser tunnel that will locate her precise location in the void.
However, the lab on which Janet’s fate depends can be shrunk to portable suitcase size, and two opposing factions covet the inventions inside. One is black-market tech trafficker Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins, once more playing the oiliest of villains) and the other is Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who wants to reverse the painful ability of phasing through solid objects, the result of a failed experiment she holds Pym responsible for.
Returning to helm his second mini-epic is Peyton Reed, who keeps the good-natured aspects in check with a disciplined hand while having enormous fun with all the comedic possibilities of scale. The flying dynamic duo popping between micro-dimensions, normality and, in the case of Ant-Man, going gigantic in the blink of an eye is always thrilling.
And much of the goon-fighting is given a further visual kick by the likes of the Wasp diminutively gliding down thrown knife blades before becoming face-off huge again. There’s also the never-gets-old lab-shrinking gag, and the tinker-toy range of ever-morphing cars that transforms the chases through the streets of San Francisco into Hot Wheels heaven.
Gone is any residue from the original film detailing Scott in a dark, despairing place as an ex-con loser and terrible role model for his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). Here, much mileage is instead made out of Scott avoiding being found by pernickety FBI man Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) because of a giant ant wearing his ankle monitor around the house. The tone and atmosphere is bright, breezy and carefree, while the rapid-fire dialogue, redolent with pop-culture resonance, is consistently amusing.
But the two hysterical standouts are when Scott’s business partner Luis (ever-reliable Michael Peña) is injected with “truth serum” and his confessional monologue is mimed by every character he mentions. More hilarity ensues when Janet mind-melds with Scott for a second time and brings out, shall we say, his more feminine personality around Hope and Hank.
These are just a couple of the more dazzling moments in a refreshingly different and delightful spectacle that also excels as a rip-roaring, fast-paced and engaging diversion. Ant-Man and the Wasp might be about teeny types, but its largesse and entertaining impact is huge.
Ant-Man and the Wasp is released in UK cinemas on Thursday 2nd August