At a time when comic book movies were steadily cranking up the Sturm und Drang, 2015’s Ant-Man served as an amiably slouching alternative, gently snarking at superheroic conventions while still staying within the Marvel mandated lines. What’s more, it was one of the rare blockbusters that actually got better as it went along, with a third act that felt like it was beginning to fully grasp the scale-shifting possibilities of its hero. All this, plus a pretty sweet joke involving The Cure, to boot.
Freed from the standard Origin Story malarky, the looser, funnier sequel Ant-Man and The Wasp thankfully lives up to that potential, amping up the elements that juiced the original (Michael Peña, household objects suddenly going gargantuan, Michael Peña), without ever seeming too busy. Even when the narrative occasionally hits a hitch, there’s usually something like a giant ant spot-welding in the background to keep things lively. Gad, do I ever love that giant spot-welding ant.
Picking up after the events of Captain America: Civil War, the plot finds the now house-arrested and depowered Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) reluctantly teaming back up with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his newly super-suited daughter (Evangeline Lilly) in order to find her long-lost mother. Meanwhile, a spooky techno-thief who can walk through walls (Hannah John-Kamen) has her own designs on the team’s array of wildly improbable gizmos.
Director Peyton Reed, who took the reins of the first film after Edgar Wright dropped out, seems to relish the chance to make things fully his own here, crafting a number of niftily orchestrated/endearingly goofy action scenes (buy Hot Wheels stock while you still can) while also capitalizing on Rudd’s willingness to play second banana to everyone else on screen. Even the villains (including the always welcome Walton Goggins as an arms dealer) don’t seem all that bad here, really, just misguided. Coming after the galactic-scaled bummer of Infinity War, Ant-Man and The Wasp feels like a much needed anomaly: a film involving people running around in brightly-colored costumes that actually dares to be just, well, fun. This is a summer movie that provides its own air conditioning.