As those still weeping over Avengers: Infinity War will tell you between muffled sobs, there’s big doin’s afoot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But none of that matters in Ant-Man and the Wasp, a direct sequel to Ant-Man that’s just as cheerfully (and fittingly) small in scale, with personal stakes rather than fate-of-the-world stuff and a director who doesn’t pretend it’s anything more than that. (I’m still stinging from Ready Player One, where they were trying to save a video game but acted like they were saving the universe.)
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is on house arrest because of what he did in Captain America: Civil War, and is on the outs with scientists Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and her father, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), for the same reason. Hope and Hank are fugitives now, working from a laboratory in a high-rise building, which they keep secret by shrinking it — the entire building — to the size of a carry-on bag when they’re not using it. What are they working on? A quantum tunnel to take them to the quantum realm, where Hope’s mom, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), has been trapped for 30 years. They need Scott’s help because he’s been to the quantum realm and seems to have a quantum entanglement with Janet. The word “quantum” is spoken several million times.
And that’s the whole objective: get Mom back from quantumland. (So she can help them save the world? Nope, just to have her back.) Hank has built a new suit for Hope that gives her wings and blasters; Scott’s suit keeps malfunctioning, embiggening and debigulating him at random, for comedy. More serious complications include buying a necessary quantum-tunnel component from an oily black-market dealer named Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), and a ghost-like figure (Hannah John-Kamen) who keeps trying to steal it. (People also keep stealing the shrunken laboratory, which gets tossed around like a suitcase without any of the fragile equipment inside being damaged.) Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), former partner and now enemy of Hank Pym, is also involved, and the film finds good use for Luis (Michael Peña), Scott’s motor-mouthed ex-con friend, as well.
The returning director is Peyton Reed, of snappy comedies like Bring It On and Down with Love, and his sensibilities have not changed. The screenplay is by the team of Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (Spider-Man: Homecoming, The LEGO Batman Movie), plus newcomers Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari, plus Paul Rudd. Everything is geared toward comedy, with much of the humor stemming (as it did in McKenna and Sommers’ other movies) from trivial things coming up during serious situations, the daily realities of life encroaching on the comic book world. It’s a good strategy that efficiently delivers laughs and exposition simultaneously. One example: Scott has a vision of Janet playing hide-and-seek with a young Hope — proof that Janet’s alive and psychically connected to Scott! — but when Hope confirms that the wardrobe in his vision is where she “always used to hide,” Scott’s takeaway is that young Hope didn’t really understand how hide-and-seek works. (This is after asserting it wasn’t a wardrobe he saw, just a tall dresser.)
In the heart department, Scott feels bad for screwing things up with Hope and Hank last time, while Hope and Hank are eager for a reunion with their beloved Janet. Those threads play out nicely, though I’m unsettled by the recent observation, first in The Catcher Was a Spy and now here, that the beloved, ageless, perfect Paul Rudd might not be enough of an actor to convey gravity, even the limited amount called for by Ant-Man and the Wasp (which needs more Wasp, BTW). He has a surface-level appeal that is very appealing but very surface-level — which works fine for about 80% of this funny, good-natured material. The main draw continues to be seeing people and things drastically change in size right before our eyes, and that never gets old.
(P.S. Stay for the mid-credits scene. There’s a very brief post-credits scene, too, but it’s unimportant, and in the trailer.)