There are 20 official Marvel Cinematic Universe films.
Let that sink in for a minute.
That’s almost as many as there are James Bond flicks (24), seven more than “Star Trek” (13) and more than “Star Wars,” “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” movies (16 total) combined.
Somehow, Marvel continues to be at the top of their game with critical and commercial mega-hit “Avengers: Infinity War” pushing the Disney off-shoot studio bigger than ever.
It’s little wonder, then, why the next step in studio president Kevin Feige’s grand plan would be to go small, this time with the pint-sized sequel “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”
Figuratively and literally, everything about this latest hit sees the superhero franchise scale things way back. The heroes are smaller, the bad guys are tamer and the problems less cataclysmic.
The film, while not quite on par with director Peyton Reed’s 2015 original, is still a lot of fun.
Scott Lang is forced to hang up his Ant-Man suit while on house arrest after the events of “Captain America: Civil War” when a dream links him to his mentor Hank Pym’s wife, presumed dead after shrinking to a sub-atomic level.
A quintessential “Average Joe,” Paul Rudd reprises his role as do-gooding thief Lang and gives Ant-Man the wry, affable charm audiences have grown to love in Rudd’s performances over the years.
The light-hearted, “guy you’d want to have over for poker night” persona Rudd cultivates in Lang drives the heart of the film and cuts through a lot of the minutiae the science-heavy plot requires. Rudd excels at the adlibbed one-liners needed to keep the film flowing smoothly.
A title like “Ant-Man and the Wasp” implies equal importance for two major characters, especially when the film serves as a direct sequel to a self-titled “Ant-Man” movie.
Yet somehow, Rudd’s Ant-Man plays the secondary, goofy sidekick to Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp, the least developed character and worst part of the original film.
Lilly’s work is better here as her chemistry with on-screen father Michael Douglas is quite good, but overall, her Hope remains the flat, uninteresting character on a second go-round, just with more screen time. Douglas gets more to work with on a second outing as Pym, with a noticeable reduction in jargon-heavy dialogue and more quips for him to sink his teeth into.
The film also boasts a quality supporting cast of Marvel newcomers including Lawrence Fishburne as an old colleague of Pym, Walton Goggins as the requisite Mafioso boss and the iconic Michelle Pfeiffer in a small turn as Pym’s wife and Hope’s mother Janet that should develop more fully in future installments.
Where the film shines brightest are in small comedic moments from Rudd or scene-stealer Michael Pena and the well-crafted action sequences that take special advantage of all the shrinking and growing that Ant-Man and The Wasp can do. It’s here that Reed improves the most over the original film as the set pieces are more cleverly designed and engaging.
Tonally, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” serves as an important palate cleanser following the highly dramatic, darker tone of “Avengers: Infinity War.” The trademark humor of the “Ant-Man” films brightens the viewing experience and makes lengthy, complicated exposition about sub-atomic realms and quantum physics seem less tedious than it actually is.
Reed and his team smartly opt to separate themselves almost entirely from “Infinity War” and create a no-frills, just fun popcorn movie that will have kids ages eight to 80 laughing throughout. Completely on its own, the 20th Marvel movie lacks pizazz, becoming a tad too convoluted for its own good with myriad storylines and secondary characters.
Given its place within “Ant-Man” lore and in the larger context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s a solid film bridging the gap to what is surely to be better, more impactful movies. In essence, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is a rich man’s “Thor: The Dark World,” a film that serves as much an episodic purpose as a cinematic one if not more so.
First time audiences to a Marvel movie won’t be too far behind as only the original “Ant-Man” provides necessary context to fully understand the plot.
However, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is targeted at ardent Marvel fans who will overlook minor shortcomings and incomplete storytelling in this fun, yet flawed film as a small piece of a much larger picture.