Many years ago, the superhero known as Ant-Man, Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) teamed up with his wife Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), also wearing a super-suit, to take down a nuclear missile that threatened thousands of innocent lives. Their suits and gadgets enabled them to shrink down to the size of the average insect, and as they clambered over the missile's shell in flight, they realised the only way to stop it would be to shrink to sub-atomic level and disrupt its circuitry; alas, Hank was suffering a malfunction, and Janet stepped in, knowing that she may never return. She saved the lives, all right, but Hank was forced to return home to a very forlorn little girl without her...
Comic book fans who remembered the nineties, or had caught up with Batman Returns on television more likely, may have been excited to hear that Pfeiffer was returning to the comic book genre with this sequel to the second division Marvel hit Ant-Man. Then on seeing the film, may equally have felt let down that she barely appeared in it, merely showing up briefly at the beginning, and having a little more to do at the end, though the plot was so stuffed with characters that you could just about forgive the project in the hope that they would bring her back for the sequel promised in one of those familiar post-credits sequences that trailed a further adventure in the Marvel Universe.
The first Ant-Man was notorious for dropping one of its more talented signings, Edgar Wright, mid-production and replacing him with Peyton Reed, who returned here, as that was before they were keener to allow an auteur to handle their characters, though even then there were patently rules even the most hard-headed creative would have to abide by. No such worries here, Reed had past experience at comedy, nothing making huge waves at the box office but a safe pair of hands nonetheless, and while Marvel liked a joke or three in many of their efforts, these superhero tales were more blatantly aiming for the funny bone than say, Logan ever would have considered.
Not that this was a rollicking laugh riot, no matter how much they crowbarred in the irreverent gags, since there was a point where you wanted them to quit trying so hard to be funny and simply get on with the action. The current Ant-Man, Scott Lang, saw Paul Rudd back (and garnering another writing credit among a host of names as well), and he was a familiar face in many a comedy, but he had the affable, straightfaced-but-did-he-really-crack-a-joke? style that made him ideal in these circumstances. It was the more contrived humorous characters who quickly began to grate, in particular Lang's buddies led by Michael Peña, who became an annoyance to the point of distraction.
They were not so bad in the first instalment, but this time around they were given more to do, when that time really should have been given over to the villains who were underdeveloped and didn't get any funny lines either - why so stingy? They came in two types, the corrupt businessmen led by Walton Goggins dead set on stealing Pym's technology just as he has made a breakthrough to potentially get his wife back and his daughter (Evangeline Lilly, our nippy Wasp) seeing her mother again, plus the would-be saboteur Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a victim of all this unfettered experimentation as a little girl who has grown up embittered and in near-constant pain thanks to her superpower, being able to phase in and out of our dimensions, which essentially meant she could walk through walls and anything else, for that matter. She too wants the tech, to cure herself.
This is an issue when, if she does, Janet will be stranded forever, though why Ghost didn't merely ask for help - Pym is not exactly a villain, despite his scientific obsessions at all costs - was never explored. She was not motivated by evil, but by her own agonies that she wants to be over, so her outlaw status was a curious one that did not sit well with the foolishness making up the greater part of the rest. Really this was a story of a rescue, which could get swamped in the amount of extraneous detail Reed and company packed in, from the quips and stunts to the degree of visual effects work that after a while was giving the impression of being thrown in for the sake of keeping the easily bored audience engaged in the bright colours and moving shapes rather than advancing any storyline or theme. Yes, Marvel had more money than they knew what to do with, and it was reaping them huge rewards practically every time they released something, but a trifle like Ant-Man and the Wasp veered close to lumbering when it should have been sprightly. Music by Christophe Beck.