Peyton Reed, 118 mins, starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Hannah John-Kamen, Walton Goggins, Michael Douglas
If you can hear that familiar summer buzzing sound, it means that Marvel’s most diminutive superhero is back. The mixture is much as it was in the first film.Ant-Man and his associates keep on shifting sizes in frantic chases and fights, combined with scenes in which scientists look very earnest and talk darkly, in best B-movie jargon, about the secrets of the “quantum” realm.
Much of the action unfolds in San Francisco, which allows for plenty of references to Steve McQueen’s feats behind the driving wheel in Bullitt.
The storyline feels a little thin and moth-eaten in parts but this sequel is plenty of fun. It is galvanised by a likeable, wildly energetic and tongue in cheek performance from Paul Rudd, who also co-scripted. He is just as irreverent as Ryan Reynolds in the Deadpool films – but not quite as cynical or obscene.
At the start of the film, Scott Lang (Rudd) is under house arrest for two years, to be followed by three years of probation, for his part in the mayhem in Germany involving Captain America and the Avengers in a previous Marvel movie. He is spending the time just as constructively as we might expect. He is teaching himself conjuring tricks from online tutorials.
When he wants a rest, he’ll sing a little karaoke or play on his drum set. He also likes turning his apartment into an adventure battleground for insects to entertain his daughter, Cassie. His ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) has enough confidence in him to allow Cassie regular visits.
Her faith isn’t shared by his scolding parole officer Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), who suspects that Scott won’t keep out of mischief for long. Employment-wise, Scott is still a partner in the struggling security business run by Luis (Michael Peña), his friend from prison days.
Director Peyton Reed draws a contrast between the banality of Scott’s regular life and the sub-atomic scientific experiments conducted by physicist and ex SHIELD agent, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who made Ant-Man possible in the first place.
One especially flaky strand of the plot involves Scott’s dreams. In a mind-bending scene, he pictures himself playing hide and seek, finding a little girl hiding in a cupboard. These images are snippets of memories that really belong to Hank’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), who went missing in the “quantum sphere” three decades before but isn’t dead.
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She is somehow able to communicate with Hank through Scott. The little girl in the cupboard is her daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), now grown up and a super-hero herself as the “Wasp”. Hank and Hope plan a mission back into the quantum realm to retrieve Janet.
Much of the dialogue about quantum energy and molecular disequilibrium would barely pass muster in a creaky low budget 1950s sci-fi B movie in the Plan 9 From Outer Space mould. Certain parts of the storyline are conveniently skimmed over. What exactly has Janet being doing on her own in the quantum sphere for 30 years? No attempt is made to tell us.
The film counters any potential audience scepticism with some astonishing visual effects and feats of prestidigitation. 3D as a format may be on the wane in Hollywood since its Avatar heyday but director Reed makes excellent use of it here. Whether in scenes of flying ants being eaten by swooping seagulls or of a microscopic spaceship hurtling into the far distance, Reed and his team play ingenious games with perspective.
They also throw in some nicely bathetic comic sound editing too. For example, when a character hits the water from a huge height, we expect an almighty splash, but when it comes to Ant-Man, they only create a very little plop.
Much of the drama here hinges on who controls the state of the art lab in which Hank is devising his experiments. This is a big, multistorey building but it can be shrunk down to the size of a portable suitcase and dragged away on wheels.
Several of the supporting characters here are as insubstantial as the ants themselves. Walton Goggins plays yet another in his increasingly long line of sneering, one-dimensional movie villains – an arms dealer called Sonny Burch who wants to hijack Hank’s technology.
More promising is British actress Hannah John-Kamen as “Ghost”, a superhero who can dematerialise but who is in a constant state of pain and has strong reasons for a grudge against Hank. Her patron is Hank’s old associate, friend and fellow scientist, Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), now his most inveterate enemy.
The best advice here is to disregard the plot and enjoy the slapstick and the buzz. In one fight sequence that takes place in a kitchen, the villains swat at Ant-Man and the Wasp with cooking implements. The super-heroes are always able to improvise – to enlarge tiny toys and use them as weapons or to downsize themselves and their vehicles just when they are about to crash.
Paul Rudd and Michael Peña make an engaging double act. Rudd manages to be both goofy and very enterprising while Peña extracts the maximum comic potential from a scene involving a truth serum he is forced to take. It’s supposed to make him share vital secrets. Instead, it prompts him to embark on long-winded and embarrassing digressions about his private life).
As with most Marvel movies, it is worth staying beyond the end credits. A coda here sets up a potential new episode in the Ant-Man series. This little mite is proving just as durable as Captain America, Iron-Man or any of the other, more sizeable superheroes in the Marvel stable. There is no sign anybody will be squashing him just yet.
Ant-Man and the Wasp hits UK cinemas 3 August
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