Marvel movies have been so successful, in part, because of their willingness to not take themselves too seriously. It's in keeping with the source material. You can almost hear Stan Lee giggling behind all Spider-Man's stupid jokes in the comic books.
Thor: Ragnarok might be the funniest Marvel movie thanks to director Taika Waititi's sense of humor, but the Ant-Man movies are right there with it. You don't just make Paul Rudd a superhero and play it straight. That said, the original Ant-Man was infused with axed director Edgar Wright's leftover sensibilities. In many ways, Wright's contributions made that film. Heading into the sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, I wondered if Marvel could keep the comedy potent.
Ant-Man and the Wasp isn't as much of a comedy as the original, but it's close. Luis, played to chatterbox perfection by the great Michael Peña, is more restrained. The plot is more urgent, with the Wasp's mother lost in the Quantum Realm. And there's more romance, as Scott Lang and Hope Van Dyne officially fall for one another... for awhile.
The biggest lure of Ant-Man is the incredible shrinking man (and woman). Set before the events of Avengers: Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp finds Lang under house arrest and estranged from his love and his mentor following the destructive events of Captain America: Civil War.
The sequel smartly uses the most important breakthrough in Ant-Man as a jumping off point for its story. After Scott miraculously survives the Quantum Realm in the first movie, Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank (Michael Douglas) try to duplicate the feat. Years earlier, Hope's mom, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), was lost in the sub-atomic dimension while on a mission of her own. They've always thought she was dead, but now they have new hope. Meanwhile, his brain fully Quantum Realmed, Scott sees visions of Janet and he's soon breaking house arrest to help his old friends.
The quest to rescue Janet from the Quantum Realm is a divergence from the usual save-the-world Marvel plot. Keeping the scope smaller, Ant-Man and the Wasp actually enlarges things, whisking us back into the sub-atomic Realm where the visual effects team can really show off.
There's plenty of real-world action as well. The introduction of scumbag crook Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and another mysterious superperson who defies dimensions named Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) invigorates the plot with conflicts. Meanwhile, the FBI wants to lock Scott away, and time is running out on Janet. If she's not rescued soon, she could disappear forever.
While the science behind Ant-Man and the Wasp is extraordinary, the movie smartly eschews too much expository explanation. Instead the film relies on the characters and their problems to create excitement. Rudd and Lilly have great chemistry. Ant-Man defers to the Wasp most of the time as a man in love rightly should, but she also owns the fight scenes. Lilly is a natural physical actor, as she always has been (Lost, The Hobbit films), and she proves it again here. This is the first MCU movie to feature a female superhero in the title, and the Wasp won't let you down.
Directed by Peyton Reed (who finished directing the first Ant-Man after Wright left), the action sequences are bold and bright Hollywood fun. Giant Pez dispensers are thrown into traffic, monstrous salt shakers stop bad guys, and Ant-Man gets supersized again, emerging from underwater like a kraken in one scene. Whatever Reed's shortcomings are, he certainly knows how to harness the magic of Ant-Man.
It's that magic that really makes Ant-Man and the Wasp worth seeing in theaters. The story is about broken families coming together, trusting your friends, and putting others ahead of yourself. But kids aren't going to remember that stuff. They'll remember the incredible stunts and light speed action. They'll remember the stunning acid trip visuals.
Ant-Man and the Wasp takes place before Infinity War, but it does tie things together, answering our unanswered Ant-Man questions and others. It also acts as a rest stop from the large-scale dread of that film. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is headed into dark territory. It's a relief to know superheroes like Ant-Man and the Wasp will keep things from getting too melodramatic.