" Get all the good you can outta 17 ‘cuz it sure wears out in one helluva hurry. "
— Paul Newman, Hud

MRQE Top Critic

Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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Ant-Man and the Wasp is as buzzy and harmless as a fly.

Home Alone

A gi-ant Ant-Man surfaces in the bay
A gi-ant Ant-Man surfaces in the bay

The best part of this romp is one of the smaller elements – and “smaller” in this case is not a reference to Ant-Man or the Wasp. What works best here is the relationship between Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, Our Idiot Brother) and his 10-year-old daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson, Forever My Girl). Early on, Scott and Cassie are on a whimsical treasure hunt involving lots of cardboard and a huge dose of imagination.

They’re on a quest to find a coveted trophy, one which reads, “World’s Best Grandma.” With the treasure in hand, the pair escape the tight confines of the twisting, turning corrugated cavern and embark on a slide down the stairs of Scott’s multi-level San Francisco home. It’s a terrific bonding moment borne of Scott’s housebound situation. Following a huge incident in Sokovia (see Captain America: Civil War), Scott’s spent the past 2 years living under house arrest.

Unfortunately, Scott inadvertently trips the alarm on his ankle bracelet as part of the playtime and that sends the FBI running right on over to the Lang residence to check on Scott’s whereabouts. What follows is a hilarious bit involving Agent Woo (Randall Park, The Interview), Scott and the art of close-up magic.

That homeland sequence sets a high bar of ingenuity and entertainment that the rest of the movie has to follow. Essentially, it holds up well, but it’s like watching the original Ant-Man in reverse. In the first episode, all the exposition, setup and antics led up to a thoroughly entertaining climax that made the entire ride worth taking.

Nuclear Family

At the core of this tale is an interesting premise involving a noted quantum physicist, Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer, Catwoman in DC’s Batman Returns). Maybe the name doesn’t ring a bell in circles outside followers of the Marvel Universe, Cinematic and otherwise. Janet’s the long-time partner of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, Haywire) and mother of their daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly, Real Steel).

While on an insanely risky mission to avert nuclear war, Janet shrunk to a dangerously tiny size in order to infiltrate the inner workings of a missile en route to the United States. Continental disaster was averted, but Janet was never seen again and was presumed killed in action.

Decades later, Dr. Pym has reason to believe Janet might still be alive in the Quantum Realm and the bulk of this peppy sequel follows the rescue efforts of Hank, Hope and Scott.

A family-friendly lark that involves a Hot Wheels case full of shrunken autos and a multi-story factory that can be compacted down to a travel-friendly roller bag, Ant-Man and the Wasp offers plenty of cool eye candy and an overall genial spirit. But it gets bogged down – a little – by a subplot involving a mobster, Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins, Tomb Raider), who sees quantum energy as the next big play, like Bitcoin.

There’s a second subplot, involving a ghost agent named Ava (Hannah John-Kamen, Ready Player One) and one of Dr. Pym’s old partners, Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne, Perry White in DC’s Man of Steel and subsequent Superman episodes). This particular story arc adds the drama and brings the conflict, to a modest degree of success.

Small Stuff

At this point, it’s clear Marvel has mastered the art of weaving story threads throughout the narrative arcs of its Cinematic Universe. It’s a strategy Disney’s hoping to replicate with the Star Wars universe, but Solo stumbled out of the gate with such a commercial thud, the Mouse House is slowing down the Lucasfilm machinery.

Ant-Man and the Wasp’s climax dovetails with Avengers: Infinity War (released in May). It sets up a grim scenario for Scott that follows right on through to the very end of the end credits, in which it is teased Ant-Man and the Wasp will return… With a question mark finally tacked on for one last, pure, pulpy tease.

What is every bit as impressive is how – while tying story elements across various Marvel franchises – the individual properties each manage to maintain their own identity. That’s most clear with Ant-Man. The humor and whimsy, largely driven by Rudd’s own low-key comic persona, are in stark (no relation to Tony) contrast to grim endeavors like Infinity War.

In the Ant-Man series, the overwhelming playfulness is a key distinguishing factor. But sometimes the smaller things are called upon to serve as reinforcing hallmarks. In this case, much like flashbacks in Ant-Man featured a young Dr. Pym and Agent Carter, this time around Dr. Pym, Janet and Dr. Foster all get to shed the years in scenes that border on the eerie – and start to question more and more the capacity to make real-life actors completely obsolete. So long expensive 8-figure salaries.

And, stylistically, Ant-Man and the Wasp features the return of another quirky Ant-Man character, Luis (Michael Pena, The Martian). Naturally, at one point he’s pressed to spill the beans. And, naturally, he goes on a highly-humorous, long-winded, tangent-riddled flashback with his voice sassily lip-synced by Rudd, Lilly and other key players.