Jolly good fun relishes in its low stakes and bad dad joke goofiness. Worth it for the Bullitthomage alone.
The last time we dipped into the MCU, now in the final stretch of its third phase, the Guardians of the Galaxy stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Avengers against the seemingly unstoppable might of Thanos, smashing up Wakanda, New York and Edinburgh along the way, spreading chaos throughout the galaxy.
It was just about as big as this story of superheros could go and, perhaps surprisingly, Marvel managed to pull it off, but is big always better? The beauty of this beast is that, with unimaginable box office success already banked, the beginning-to-be-formulaic individual entries can afford to take a few risks, whether that be trying on genres like the spy thriller for size, amping up the space opera or daring to go political.
One hero noticeably absent from that epic last stand was Paul Rudd’s goofy crook gone good(ish) Scott Lang/Ant-Man. Able to shrink to dinky proportions and, if needs be, go large too, his first outing was commendably dorky, trading in a higher quota of quips and relishing its smaller scale, culminating in a train wreck sequence utilising Thomas the Tank Engine.
Returning director Peyton Reed tackles a script penned by a phalanx of writers including Spider-Man: Homecomingscribes Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, as well as Rudd himself. Spinning out of the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War, Lang is under home arrest for his role in Cap’s counter government rebellion. Staving off boredom by learning card tricks and creating cardboard mazes for his adoring and adorable daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), he has ample babysitting help from ex wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and her partner Paxton (Bobby Cannavale).
A romantic dalliance with sometime crime-fighting partner Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) has shrunk from sight since his busting by the FBI, and subsequent handling by clueless Agent Jimmy Woo (a game Randall Park), has forced the Wasp and her father Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) into hiding, in a rather nifty shrinking secret lair complete with retracting carry on case handle, no less.
Following Scott’s brief sojourn in the trippy microscopic quantum realm last time round, they harbour hopes of finding long-lost mum Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). Far from universe-dusting, the stakes are pretty small here, with low-key villainy supplied by Walter Goggins’ sleazy gangster Sonny Burch and pleasing shades of grey from an impressive Hannah John-Kamen as the tormented Ava/Ghost. Inextricably linked to our heroes, her out-of-control phasing abilities mean she can walk through walls but has precious little time left to live. Laurence Fishburne, as Pym’s one-time rival Dr Bill Foster, further complicates the still reassuringly simple narrative.
The San Fran-set Ant-Man and the Wasp excels in its proliferation of silly sight gags, dorky dad jokes and knowing nods to cinematic classics. A Bullitt riff car chase with Micro Machines and a Pez dispenser is pure gold, and a pigeon-driven nod to Jurassic Parkalso tickles. Marvel almost goes queer with a nice body swap moment and another sly nod during a shifting power dynamic, and Michael Peña’s loose-lipped ex-con Luis once more steals every scene he’s in.
Far from Infinity War, this ain’t universe-changing stuff, but it doesn’t have to be. Playing fast and loose and setting up a nice little twist too, it’s a refreshing pit stop from the madness, minus city-levelling. Lilly and Rudd’s chemistry is delightful, with Pfeiffer is a welcome addition to this family unit. While we wait for someone to figure out how to deliver a decent Fantastic Four film, these guys have the familial fun figured out. Hopefully next time round we can dive a little a deeper into the Kubrick-like quantum wows.
Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords