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'Ant-Man and the Wasp' review: Superhero sequel falls short of the original

Evangeline Lilly is the Wasp and Paul Rudd

Evangeline Lilly is the Wasp and Paul Rudd is Ant-Man in Marvel Studios' "Ant-Man and the Wasp." Credit: Marvel Studios/null

PLOT A new enemy dubbed Ghost proves a match for Ant-Man's physics-defying powers.

CAST Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Hannah John-Kamen

RATED PG-13 (mild action-violence)

LENGTH 1:58

BOTTOM LINE A slightly diminished sequel to the hugely entertaining “Ant-Man.”

It seems like ages since 2015, when Paul Rudd brought his good looks and Everybro charm to the improbable title role of “Ant-Man.” Like the rock-and-rolling “Guardians of the Galaxy” from the year before, “Ant-Man” marked a new kind of superhero movie: breezy and funny, with a hip attitude. Its distinctively kooky action sequences — in which our hero vanquished foes by rapidly switching from normal-sized human to barely visible speck — were both thrilling and comedic.

Since then, another “Guardians” movie has come and gone, “Spider-Man” returned with a wisecracking vengeance and “Thor: Ragnarok” marked a new comedic peak in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Ant-Man” had the foresight to introduce a new female superhero, hinted at during the closing credits, but “Wonder Woman” got there first. How, then, can an “Ant-Man” sequel top the original?

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” doesn't really try, which — disappointing as that sounds — might be the best option. This is a stopgap movie, a midseason episode, devoted to introducing new characters and establishing dynamics. There isn't much of a villain to give our heroes a purpose; they spend most of their time chasing keys that fit in locks that open doors that lead to the next chase. Is “Ant-Man and the Wasp” generally entertaining, with a few good chuckles and some cool ideas? Yes. Could you skip it and just wait for the next “Avengers” film? Also yes.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” picks up, confusingly, where “Captain America: Civil War” left off, with Rudd's Scott Lang under house arrest for his role in an overseas Avengers melee. He escapes, though, to help his onetime girlfriend, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), contact her mother, Janet (the great Michelle Pfeiffer), who vanished into “the quantum realm” 30 years ago. (Michael Douglas returns as Dr. Hank Pym, who almost convinces us these scientific concepts are plausible.) They're thwarted, however, by Ava (Hannah John-Kamen), a young woman whose molecular instability earns her the nickname Ghost. The presence of a secondary bad guy, black marketeer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), suggests that “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is short on story despite its five-man screenplay team.

Director Peyton Reed returns for this sequel and keeps the pace moving briskly, but there's nothing here to match his first film's ingenious fight scene inside a briefcase (set to The Cure's “Plainsong”). The introduction of Hope as the Wasp is also a letdown: She was supposed to be a revelation, but instead she's just part of the overall hubbub. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” has its moments, but it doesn't quite measure up to the original.

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