Ant-Man and the Wasp

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Several stretches of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” play out in the quantum realm, so there’s plenty of mumbo jumbo about quantum entanglement. This latest Marvel Comics epic also provides a demonstration of non-quantum entanglement. Unlike the deadly dull “Ant-Man” that came and went three years ago, this one tangles us up almost instantly in its high-tech bedazzlements and witty beguilements. Some of the mumbo really is jumbo, as before—the technology that miniaturizes Ant-Man can also giantize him. The best thing, though, is the movie’s modest scale. It’s a good-natured epic, dedicated to the non-tech principle of dispensing plain old pleasure.

Paul Rudd is back, winningly, as Scott Lang/aka the superhero of the title, along with Michael Douglas as the inventor Dr. Hank Pym, and Evangeline Lilly, who’s lovely and strong as Hank’s daughter, Hope van Dyne. Hope now has wings, and wings with a family history; they make her the Wasp of the title, a superheroine who flies rings around her unreliably super guy when need be. The whole movie has wings. It’s as if all concerned, starting with the director, Peyton Reed, had been released from the bondage—the basic inertness—of their previous film.

Will hardcore fans embrace this one? Maybe not, for the same reasons a wider audience probably will. The film forgoes any grand purpose; it lacks the sort of density that pits crowds of characters against one another in pursuit of cosmic goals. The focus here is sharper, more human—finding Hope’s mother, Janet, the original Wasp, and bringing her back from the quantum realm, where she’s been languishing for 30 years. (She’s played by Michelle Pfeiffer, who doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but makes her presence powerfully, even regally, felt.)

The production is a fine showcase for Paul Rudd’s singular quality as a Hollywood star. He is—I’m not sure how to say this without seeming to miniaturize his appeal—remarkably companionable, working the knife edge between witty and earnest. He’s also the main beneficiary of some very smart writing.

Words count for a lot in this production. One hilarious set piece turns on Michael Peña’s Luis, who’s Scott’s partner in a security firm. Luis recounts an elaborate story at warp speed under the influence of a truth serum while we see everyone who figures in the tale talking at his frantic pace in his voice.

Still, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is an action adventure with action that’s enjoyable, if familiar. It’s another big-and-little show with chases that use teeny and huge to amusing effect. The previous “Ant-Man” featured the appearance of an enormous Thomas the Tank Engine. During a chase in this one an enormouser Ant-Man uses a flatbed truck as a scooter. And, as you might expect, lots of extremely large ants play very small roles. They aren’t charming, but they do make themselves useful.

I’m Joe Morgenstern. I’ll be back on KCRW next week with more reviews.