‘Ant-Man and The Wasp’ Surpasses Original With Eye-Popping Style

Sit down, relax, put on your 3D glasses and just let this fun ride take you away. “Ant-Man and The Wasp” is one of the summer’s great entertainments. That rare sequel that absolutely tops the original, it bursts with creativity, joy and style in nearly every frame. It is no secret that Marvel has essentially devoured the box office, this year even more so than before. But part of the secret recipe for the studio’s massive success is its versatile approach. Every new movie has its own attitude. “Ant-Man and The Wasp” is not a rehash but a dynamic and pleasant adventure. It has less darkness than the recent, Homeric “Avengers: Infinity Wars,” or the grand pageantry of “Black Panther.”

Former thief turned hero Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has put away the Ant-Man suit and is now focusing on trying to finish his probation period, open a security business with buddy Luis (Michael Peña), and spend time with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). Lang has been estranged from Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), creator of the technology behind the Ant-Man costume, and his daughter, Lang’s love interest, Hope (Evangeline Lilly) after he ran off to partake in the events of “Captain America: Civil War” without telling them. But he is soon reunited with the pair, who believe they have found a way to make contact with Pym’s wife, whose own costumed persona was The Wasp, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). Years ago Janet was lost in the depths of the Quantum Realm after going on a mission with Pym, the original Ant-Man. But a new foe appears, Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who seeks the quantum technology for her own uses. Aiding her is Pym’s bitter old rival, Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne).

“Ant-Man and The Wasp” hurtles for nearly two hours with a special rhythm in which comedy and action combine beautifully. Director Peyton Reed has developed an interesting repertoire of films ranging from wild to small and personal, always laced with sharp humor. From the vicious cheerleader satire “Bring It On” to the blunt honesty of “The Break-Up,” Reed’s films are always carried by their personalities. With the first “Ant-Man” and now the sequel, this is one of those Marvel titles where much of the charm resides in the characters. Lang belongs to the Marvel pantheon of films like “Guardians of the Galaxy,” where the hero is essentially a misfit who stumbles into doing good. We find Lang having to cope with an ankle bracelet, under house arrest. He just has a few weeks to go and tries ever so hard to keep himself from doing anything that violates his probation, such as putting on that Ant-Man suit. He’s still written as the fumbling ex-husband, although he is getting along very well with ex Maggie (Judy Greer), and her new husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale). The script has a sly way of writing Paxton, making him a little too nice and enthusiastic when they visit Lang, jumping into every group hug. He’s like the new boyfriend or husband trying a bit too hard to prove everything is cool. The chemistry between Lang and Hope is just as entertaining as the action, because they play off each other so well. Lang is the screw up, Hope is the sharp mind who suffers few fools, and now that she takes on the mantle of The Wasp, she is demanding more respect. But aggression is usually a disguise for attraction, and that is more than true in this story.

This is a super hero movie after all, and “Ant-Man and The Wasp” demands to be experienced on a big screen for its exhilarating style. Here is one of the few movies you should try to watch specifically in 3D. Unlike other special effects films where the 3D feels like an unnecessary, tagged on gimmick, here the format comes to life with great immersion. Because the movie’s effects are based on the idea of miniaturizing worlds and objects, 3D gives the movie a stunning sense of dimension and environment. Moments where Ant-Man and Wasp shrink and fly through the air, or when we enter the Quantum Realm with its trippy, “2001”-like palettes, all of it feels like the viewer being transported into a micro reality. Action scenes combined with comedy become even funnier, especially when a giant Pez dispenser used to thwart villains in a riveting chase through San Francisco, when seagulls become birds of terror, or when Ant-Man grows into gigantic size and swims towards a ship like a goofy sea monster. The combination of effects and 3D have a unique, organic quality that is rare. It helps that the cinematographer is Dante Spinotti, a master of precise, wide compositions who first became renowned on Michael Mann films like “Heat” and “The Last of the Mohicans.”

“Ant-Man and The Wasp,” like the recent “The Incredibles 2,” also excels as a great summer film because of its inviting nature. You can take the family or enjoy it as an adult with a goofy grin. It has the tone and feel of classic comic books where the humor is light but hilarious, like when Luis argues with a villain over what actually constitutes as truth serum, or when he describes a supposed Chicano love for the songs of Morrissey (“we can relate to his melancholy ballads”). Some moments allow the actors to have real fun with the story, particularly a scene where Lang returns from the Quantum Realm and Janet starts communicating through him to Pym. In terms of Marvel movies this one is a small delight, with references to the previous movies here and there, but you can enjoy it without having seen any of the recent epics. The visuals never overpower the story and we care for the characters.  Even the villains have aims more reasonable and even understandable than a fascist warlord like Thanos in “Avengers.” By the end we actually feel for Ghost and Foster.

There is a certain gloom inherent in recent superhero films, even the great ones. “Ant-Man and The Wasp” is full of color and energy, goofball personalities and obsessed geniuses, lost loves and giant insects. It uses small ideas for big payoffs.

Ant-Man and The Wasp” releases July 6 in theaters nationwide.