To say the build-up to Marvel's Ant-Man and The Wasp has been a little incongruous would be putting it lightly. If Avengers: Infinity War was a funeral, watching Paul Rudd dodge giant Hello Kitty Pez dispensers and crack wise for two hours feels like the world's most inappropriate wake. Even with the nearly two-month buffer, it was difficult to be prepared to return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe to smile and laugh.
Thankfully, what could have been an exercise in wincing through painful reminders of the halcyon days before the status quo-altering finger snap wound up being a refreshing and exceedingly kindhearted remembrance of exactly why the MCU matters so much to fans.
We join Scott Lang (Rudd) in the fallout from 2016's Captain America: Civil War, as we learn that, following a plea bargain for his violation of the Sokovia Accords, he's been under house arrest for nearly two years. He's now days away from being placed on standard probation with the condition that he never act as Ant-Man or interact with his known former associates, and current fugitives -- the government knows he used Pym tech -- Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). That isn't a problem for Scott who, upon taking the deal, really only wanted to settle down and be a father to his precocious daughter Cassie.
Of course, things don't go as planned, and Scott's life is pulled right back into a collision course with Hank and Hope, setting in motion a cascade of risky, parole-violating events that land him back in the Ant-Man suit and desperately over his head.
Lilly's Hope steals the movie from the word go, in what might be the most satisfying turnaround in MCU history. The Hope we meet here is miles away from the hardened and bitter business woman introduced in Ant-Man, having blossomed into a full-fledged take-no-prisoners superhero in the time between films. After spending her time in the 2015 original tearing out her hair for a chance to prove herself, only for her father to repeatedly tell her no, she finally gets to show what she's known all along: She is damn good at this hero thing, and it should have been her in the costume from the start.
Lilly and Rudd are a joy to watch together now that their dynamic isn't tainted by the endless "but why him and not me?" frustration of the first movie. Rudd does an amazing job of keeping his performance grounded and devoid of the typical chest-pounding machismo. Scott Lang isn't interested in showing off, nor is he threatened by Hope's competence. The result is a brilliant and hilarious chemistry that makes Scott and Hope completely endearing, and their romantic undertones refreshingly well-earned.
As far as the supporting cast is concerned, Scott's gang of lovable ex-convicts, Luis (Michael Peña), Dave (T.I. Harris) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian), is back in the best way. We only get one of Luis's trademark storytelling montages, but it's used well, and just as funny as you'd want it to be. Instead, director Peyton Reed pivots expectations and goes for less obvious but ultimately more hilarious running gags. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne) capitalizes on his limited screen time with a memorable and overwhelmingly human performance that opens all sorts of interesting potential doors to the MCU's future and its past. Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) has been well worth the three-year wait.
As for the villains, Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) actually manages to stick the landing, even with the daunting task of standing in the shadow of Thanos. She's not what you're expecting (and I'll avoid saying too much beyond that), but Ghost does fit neatly into the MCU's recent trend in inventive and memorable antagonists. She sits more than comfortably among peers like Michael Keaton's Vulture, Michael B. Jordan's Killmonger and Daniel Brühl's Zemo.
Above all else, Ant-Man and The Wasp is yet another in the MCU's winning streak. It's not quite a heist movie, not completely a romcom and not totally an action-adventure, but instead delights in dancing between genres. Its comedy is wonderfully offbeat, its heart is huge and emblazoned on its sleeve, and its intentions are wildly optimistic and bright. It's so bright, in fact, that it may help to soothe that Infinity War ache, if only for a little while.
In U.S. theaters July 6, director Peyton Reed's Ant-Man and The Wasp stars Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Hannah John-Kamen, Abby Ryder Fortson, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer and Laurence Fishburne.