The movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe contain multitudes and can cover any genre: war movie (“Captain America: The First Avenger”), political thriller (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”), planet-hopping science fiction (the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies), fantasy (“Thor: The Dark World”) and even action comedy (“Thor: Ragnarok”).
What the newest entry in the franchise, “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” does is even more daring: It’s a mix of buddy comedy and romantic comedy, showcasing three strong women characters in a series known for boys playing with their toys.
The new movie starts with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) nearly done with the two years’ house arrest he got in a plea deal after fighting alongside Cap and the renegade Avengers. (Remember the superhero battle in the German airport in “Captain America: Civil War”? If not, do your homework.)
If Scott’s ankle monitor gets an inch outside his San Francisco home, FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park) and his team descend to search the house — in hopes of catching the fugitive scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who created Scott’s Ant-Man suit, and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Hank’s daughter and assistant.
House arrest has been dull, so Scott has plenty of time for indoor play with his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), and to aid his prison buddy Luis (Michael Peña) as he gets their security consultation business off the ground. But when Scott has a dream, or a vision, involving Hank’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) — lost and presumed dead when she shrank to the subatomic level into something called “the quantum realm” — he feels compelled to contact Hank and Hope again.
Hank and Hope have been busy in the interim, building a “quantum tunnel.” (“Do you guys just put ‘quantum’ before everything?” Scott asks at one point.) They plan to use it to rescue Janet, but they’re not the only ones who want it. There’s the black-market tycoon, Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), who sees the financial benefit of such a device. And then there’s a mystery figure — played by Hannah John-Kamen, who had a busy spring with roles in “Ready Player One” and “Tomb Raider” — who seems to phase through objects.
The guys, including Laurence Fishburne as a former colleague of Hank’s, get the better one-liners in this humorous and well-worked script (credited to five writers, including Rudd). But it’s the women who get the glory: John-Kamen makes for an electrifying villain, Pfeiffer shines in her brief appearance, and Lilly’s tough-as-nails performance ensures The Wasp is not merely Ant-Man’s sidekick but a hero deserving of her place in the movie’s title (the first woman in a Marvel movie to earn that honor).
Director Peyton Reed, returning after the first “Ant-Man,” revels in the sight-gag potential of having people and things change size unexpectedly. And, since the movie is set in San Francisco, he can’t resist staging an old-school car chase through the city.
With its constant humor and the energetic chemistry between Rudd and Lilly, “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is the most playful of the Marvel movies, a marked tone shift from the downbeat “Avengers: Infinity War.” But stay to the end for the trademark Marvel post-credit stinger, a jaw-dropper of a cliffhanger that will have fans counting the days until next year, when “Captain Marvel” and the fourth “Avengers” movie finally arrive.
’Ant-Man and the Wasp’
Strong comedy, and a bit of romance sparring, in this playful entry in the Marvel franchise.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, July 6.
Rating • PG-13 for some sci-fi action violence.
Running time • 118 minutes.