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Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly in Ant-Man and the Wasp.

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  • Ant-Man and the Wasp
  • Directed by: Peyton Reed
  • Written by: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari and Paul Rudd
  • Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas
  • Classification: PG; 118 minutes

rating

Although it was jammed with superheroes and sidekicks and villains and all manner of bombastic CGI-enabled madness, this spring’s heaving Avengers: Infinity War felt like it was missing something. Something fun. Something small.

Here is the obligatory spoiler alert for those who yet to see the US$2.03-billion-grossing cinematic monster Infinity War, but still somehow have emotional stakes in its plot: Ant-Man, a.k.a. Paul Rudd’s scruffy and witty Scott Lang, a.k.a the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s tiniest champion, was missing in action throughout the entire film. Which was a shame, since Joe and Anthony Russo’s superhero smorgasbord was sorely missing the humour and adorably low stakes of Ant-Man’s initial 2015 self-titled outing.

That film, directed by Bring It On’s Peyton Reed and developed from the ashes of a long-simmering Edgar Wright project, was a thoroughly enjoyable piece of pop, a bouncy heist film wrapped in the guise of a familiar superhero origin story. Along with James Gunn’s first Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man’s wit and verve and not-quite-subtle pokes at the studio-assembly machine established the ideal formula of a Marvel movie: 60 per cent humour, 20 per cent action, 20 per cent impeccable casting (not only the eternally boyish Rudd, but supporting players Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, and scene-stealing, fast-talking, almost-fourth-wall-breaking sidekick Michael Peña, too).

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Ant-Man and the Wasp may gain a hero in its title and expectations in its financial performance, but everything else about the movie goes against the sequel grain.

Marvel Studios

Although the brass at Marvel Studios have since chosen to shelve that perfect calculation in their supervillain-y quest for box-office dominance (save Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok), Reed’s new Ant-Man follow-up is mostly successful at dusting it off.

Ant-Man and the Wasp may gain a hero in its title and expectations in its financial performance, but everything else about the movie goes against the sequel grain. Only a few new characters are introduced into Ant-Man’s world, and they all fit remarkably easily. The narrative stakes are still low, but the emotional investment is cranked up. And while the budget may be higher, Reed and his team avoid shoving that fact in our face – the visual effects are carefully executed and, crucially, aesthetically comprehensible. You can actually tell what is going on from frame to frame, with every car chase and fist fight choreographed and edited with a delightful zip.

Set between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Infinity War (don’t worry, the film can be enjoyed by Marvel acolytes and apostates alike), the film finds reformed thief turned reluctant hero Lang under house arrest. Estranged from both his mentor, super-scientist Hank Pym (Douglas), and his love interest, Hope Van Dyne, a.k.a. newbie superhero Wasp (Lilly), Lang is pulled back into their orbit thanks to a dream involving Hope’s long-lost mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), and the machinations of villains both serious (Hannah John-Kamen’s non-corporeal Ghost) and blessedly hilarious (Walton Goggin’s Sonny, who enjoys arms dealing and farm-to-table cuisine in equal measure).

The story itself isn’t of much consequence – and even Ghost proves to be less a major threat than a light annoyance – but the curves and diversions the script takes along the way are delightful. All manner of people and cars and multi-storey buildings shrink and super-size themselves, while the writers – five, including Rudd – are careful to humanize even the tiniest of bit players, up to and including actual ants.

Paul Rudd in Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Ben Rothstein/Marvel Studios

If there is only one major disappointment here, it’s in the upgraded promise of the title. Ant-Man and the Wasp is the first of Marvel Studios’ 20 films to feature a female character in its title, yet Reed and his team don’t give Hope much to do outside two and a half nifty fight scenes, and several more of her giving Lang the stink-eye. Hope has easy motivation in the classic search to find a long-lost parent, but Lilly is never afforded the opportunity to dig into that quest. Her dialogue, too, feels as if it was jotted down as an afterthought, with the choice lines reserved for Lang and a host of wild, intriguing side characters (Peña and Goggins, plus Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne and Randall Park – like the first outing, the casting here is ridiculously stacked).

It will take no small fix to rectify matters for the inevitable third Ant-Man film. But there is every reason to believe Reed may yet pull off a minor marvel.

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