ANT MAN AND THE WASP
Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena
Running time: 118 minutes
RATING: THREE-AND-A-HALF STARS
Superheroes who can shrink themselves to subatomic dimensions, buddy banter clever enough to bend time … the Marvel Universe is elastic enough to accommodate all sorts of eye-popping miracles.
But it has yet to generate a fabulously flawed, three-dimensional female lead.
Interested observers had high hopes for Evangeline Lilly's Wasp, who is officially recognised as Ant-Man's partner in the title of this fun, family-friendly sequel.
And the character's action credentials are impeccable - genius inventor Hank Pym's (Michael Douglas) daughter revels herself to be a lean, mean fighting machine.
In fact, when it comes to kicking ass, the Wasp is clearly Ant-Man's superior (and not only because her suit comes equipped with extras, like wings and a blaster).
But Hope Van Dyne, who goes by her mother's surname, lacks the humour and/or hubris of her male counterparts.
Lilly imbues the character with as much kinetic dignity as the screenplay allows, but there's only so much an actor can do with the brainy, beautiful/dutiful daughter routine.
Perhaps warning bells should have been sounded by the film's title. After all, it is Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) And The Wasp (should that read W. A. S. P?).
This (admittedly early) iteration has no sting.
And as wonderful as it is to see Michelle Pfeiffer make an appearance in, well, anything at all - her character is short-changed even further. Janet Van Dyne is not just a supermum, she's positively saintly.
Thank goodness, then, for the tortured Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a much more ephemeral character, who slips between the female archetypes.
With a few notable exceptions (Zoe Saldana's Gamora stands out), the team at Marvel are much more comfortable writing alpha males and arrested adolescents - Ant-Man
And The Wasp has liberal helpings of both.
Rudd is one of the most underrated comedians in Hollywood; he slips into his character's exoskeleton seemingly without exertion.
A lot of actors pay homage to the art of doing less - Rudd has mastered it. Not once does he get in the way of a good gag.
Michael Pena complements Rudd beautifully with another scene-stealing performance as Ant-Man's bumbling offsider, Luis, although this time he is given a run for his money by one of his security team (David Dastmalchian).
Ant-Man And The Wasp's fight choreography feels fresh, due in no small part to the characters' sliding scale.
This applies to the Matchbox car chases, as well.
Pym's laboratory, which shrinks to the size of a cabin bag, also serves as a useful
Ant-Man and the Wasp skews towards the younger end of the Marvel spectrum.
Classic screwball action comedy upgraded with state-of-the-art visual effects.