If there's little to dislike in this actively ingratiating Ant-Man sequel, there's not terribly much to recommend it either. Intended as an intermezzo between the heavy courses of Marvel Cinematic Universe tentpole films, “Ant-Man and The Wasp” swings so far in the other direction that it risks disappearing in a froth of wackiness.
Paul Rudd again portrays former petty thief Scott Lang, now under house arrest for his participation, as Ant-Man, in the Avengers' destructive airport battle depicted in “Captain America: Civil War.” Consequently, Lang has ditched the Ant-Man suit and devotes his time instead to entertaining his visiting daughter with close-up magic and pretend robberies that require traversing human-sized Rube Goldberg-style structures that he's built throughout the house.
Actually, a former superhero faced with the real-life strains of confinement, divorce, and shared custody is an intriguing premise. So naturally the human drama is quickly jettisoned by the film's committee of five screenwriters in favor of a more Marvel-ish mission: original Ant-Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and daughter Hope / The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), believe Lang can help them rescue wife, mother, and original Wasp Janet Van Dyne from the Quantum Zone where she's been trapped at sub-atomic size for the past 30 years.
Needless to say, all of this requires a number of expositional monologues, including a hilariously inspired one from Scott's former partner in crime Luis (Michael Peña) in which the characters involved appear on-screen to lip-sync his comic motor-mouth delivery.
The Marvel plot also introduces not one, not two, but three antagonists: the FBI, after Lang for his parole violation; black market dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) and his assorted henchmen, who want to sell Pym's tech; and new villain Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who is able to shift her molecules to pass through items but now requires Pym technology to keep from disintegrating.
Despite the superhero trappings, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” has much in common with 70s Disney live-action comedies such as “The Shaggy D.A.” and “The Love Bug,” where plot takes a back seat to setting up sight gags. Here, the visual jokes hinge on shifts of scale: an enlarged Ant-Man using a flat-bed truck as a skateboard; a suddenly enlarged Pez dispenser used to stop a pursuing car; Hank Pym wheeling his shrunken block-sized research lab like a carry-on suitcase. And the two villains are so overwrought and underdeveloped that they seem about as threatening as Keenan Wynn in “Herbie Rides Again.”
Rudd again relies on self-effacing humor and witty asides (he is credited as one of the screenwriters), but they possess less power to disarm this time around, more often suggesting how relatively useless he is compared to his co-star. It is The Wasp who is the true superhero here, with a cooler (double-winged) suit, better moves, and a far more self-possessed attitude (thanks in large part to Lilly's portrayal) than her partner. Unfortunately, in the Marvel universe, gender tends to trump aptitude. Despite the superheroes' shared billing, director Peyton Reed makes it clear throughout that this is Lang's story.
One can only hope that someday (with next year's “Captain Marvel,” perhaps?), Marvel will finally achieve what the notoriously struggling DC Multiverse managed almost effortlessly with Wonder Woman: a shattering of the cinematic superhero glass ceiling.