It’s obviously been a big 2018 for Marvel Studios and Disney. In February they released Black Panther, which enjoyed all kinds of critical and financial success. It served as a precursor to Avengers: Infinity War, which to date is the biggest superhero extravaganza of them all. That installment ended (sorry, spoiler!) on a down note and fans were left to wonder how any Marvel follow-ups would fare. Roughly two months later we have our answer with the sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man - Ant-Man and The Wasp. Peyton Reed returns as director and thankfully he opted to not go bigger than Infinity War. Ant-Man and The Wasp figuratively and literally went smaller, yet it packs plenty of big punches that propel it past the original.

There is a genre shift, which is welcome – Ant-Man is an origin story and heist film. Reed and crew turned the follow-up into an action-adventure with rom-com elements. From that perspective this should appeal to a broader audience, and since Ant-Man is now a known commodity (with a well-known Paul Rudd as its star) it should perform well at the box office. But with Solo doing poorly (well, poorly for a Star Wars property), you never know. At the least, its tone is light and fun, which I feel is perfect and necessary after the Thanos initiative.

Speaking of which, this sequel’s narrative is more in line with events in Infinity War, but it’s still a standalone story. Reed and his writing team (which includes Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari and Rudd) made sure to stick with a straightforward story that capitalizes on Paul Rudd’s charm and undeniable comedic skills. Also, there is chemistry between Rudd and his co-star, Evangeline Lilly, whose Hope Van Dyne finally has a chance to shine as the Wasp. Ant-Man and The Wasp is a showcase for strong and capable females, with Hope/Wasp front and center. The remaining slots are filled by Hannah John-Kamen and the ever-amazing Michelle Pfeiffer (big white wig and all!), who play Ghost and Janet Van Dyne, respectively. What’s interesting is Ghost is a man in the Marvel comics, so either Marvel is trying to make amends or they simply want to try something new. Either way, this is a good move since the MCU could use more diversity and John-Kamen can make Ghost her own.

Interestingly, Ant-Man and The Wasp has two villains (one of them being Ghost). The second is Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), an illegal arms/tech dealer who’s after Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) technology. While trying to dodge the Burch-bullet, Hank and Hope are on the run from the authorities, but they’re determined to reach the Quantum Realm and find Janet. Janet’s been been considered dead for years but hopes are high she’s alive after Scott Lang (Rudd) miraculously returned from the Quantum Realm.

Scott has been on house arrest, which explains why he wasn’t available to help the Avengers in their fight against Thanos. Ironically, Scott’s decision to help Captain America in Civil War is the reason why he’s in trouble in the first place (by the way, Scott’s is on bad terms with Hank and Hope, but they put that aside in order to find Janet). That means Scott has to outsmart the FBI and Agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), since Scott needs to leave the house to help Hank and Hope and he’s only days away from the end of his 2-year home imprisonment. To add more atop a seemingly overflowing plate, Lawrence Fishburne is on board as Hank’s former colleague, while Michael Peña, T.I., David Dastmalchian, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer and Abby Ryder Fortson return.

It may seem like plenty is going on, but the script is actually tighter since the main back stories have been established. The abundance of characters allows Reed to focus on relationships and the importance of having healthy ones. His main focus is on father-daughter relations, exercised by Scott and Cassie (Fortson), Hank and Hope, and another pair whom I’ll refrain from naming.

Since Edgar Wright isn’t involved (he famously left Ant-Man’s production a year before its 2015 release), the humor doesn’t surpass the original (but it’s still funny, especially when it comes to Peña). That may be its biggest drawback (but it's a minor one) since the action is improved and more abundant. Ant-Man and The Wasp is a lot of things, but most of all it’s an exciting and funny sequel that accomplishes the difficult task of successfully following up an epic superhero tentpole. With Paul Rudd looking more comfortable as an everyman superhero, his relatability and charm (combined with everything else) means this latest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is excellent fare which should hold us over until next May.

4 stars out of 5

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