Given the few certainties we have in our lives – death, taxes, and new Marvel movies – Peyton Reed’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp” has been sold as a two-hour long respite from the heavy degradations of April’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” The tone is certainly more affable, thanks to Paul Rudd, the most boyish 50-year-old in the world, who stars as Scott Lang/Ant-Man.
Scott is in the last days of a two-year house arrest for some transgression in an earlier Marvel film you’ve already forgotten. He makes elaborate cardboard mazes for his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) and is visited by his friendly ex Maggie (Judy Greer) and her husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale). You can tell these people are very wealthy because they own Victorians and never see a homeless person on the streets of San Francisco.
Scott looks forward to the end of his incarceration so he can continue his arrested relationship with Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), a.k.a. the Wasp. For her part, Hope has mastered the art of shrinkage and is now working with her father, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), on a tunnel to the quantum realm where she might find her mother, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer).
On a rescue mission long ago, Janet shrank to the size of a proton and never returned. We know her through a flashback – with scary reverse-aging CGI technology – in which she kissed young Hope on the head and called her “Jellybean” (a nickname that is repeated far, far too many times in the film).
Besides Pfeiffer, one wonders which other actors are lost in the quantum realm — could you find Josh Hartnett in there? Where is the subatomic rescue mission to save Taylor Kitsch?
At any rate, Pym’s hidden lab is a perfect vision of the future promised by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, wherein human workers have been replaced by enormous sentient ants that build machines to chase their billionaire masters’ quixotic dreams.
To acquire a missing part for the tunnel, Hope meets with illegal tech merchant Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins, doing his usual Southern sleaze). He double-crosses her, and then the film fails to properly integrate him into the rest of the narrative.
More critical to the plot is Scott’s old cellmate Luis (Michael Peña) – as in the first “Ant-Man,” his motor-mouthed monologues are a highlight. In this iteration, we learn he’s from a family of Morrissey fans who would kick customers out of their restaurant if they didn’t appreciate the jukebox that played 100 percent Smiths songs.
Between Luis and his X-Con Security systems comrades Dave (Tip “T.I.” Harris) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian), there is the germ of a good movie about the difficulty of re-entry and dangers of recidivism in the grossly unequal Bay Area economy. But the prison-industrial complex is not the subject of the film – it’s villains who can walk through walls!
That would be Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a woman with a chilly personality and “quantum instability” that allows to her to “phase” past buildings and bullets and so on. There is no known cure for her “molecular disequilibrium,” but if she can just break into the quantum realm using Dr. Pym’s tunnel…
She’s a pale imitation of a proper antagonist but, on the other hand, the action sequences with her distract from the sputtering dual romances in the film – Hank and Janet are separated by the nature of matter, Scott and Hope are separated by their complete lack of chemistry.
‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated PG-13. Running time 2:05. Visit www.cinemawest.com.