Ant-Man and the Wasp, directed by Peyton Reed is a loose, limber, thoroughly engaging sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man, all the more so by not having to spend too much time bringing viewers up to speed.
This latest entry in the Marvel Universe takes place after the events in Captain America: Civil War, as our hero Scott/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) has been under house arrest and is now a mere three days away from being allowed back into the outside world (a penalty for his international flight to help Captain America). However Scott is not able to simply bide his time, since he is prevailed upon by his mentor (and Ant-Man prototype Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (aka the Wasp, played by Evangeline Lilly) to use his particular skills to locate Pym’s wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), who long ago entered the “quantum realm” while on a dangerous mission—and has lately been forging a psychic connection with Scott. Complicating matters is Anna (a very good Hannah John-Kamen), a troubled and very dangerous young woman who has trouble with an upended cellular structure that grants her incredible powers—and no escape from endless pain. She too wishes to locate Janet—for altogether different reasons.
Sounds pretty serious, doesn’t it? Despair not, for Ant-Man and the Wasp, with its screenplay credited to several writers (including Rudd) maintains a light tone throughout. While it does have the occasional poignant, reflective moment, the film is still jauntier and livelier than its predecessor, with ample opportunities for comic riffs and absurdist moments. Paul Rudd is in top form, whether he’s feigning knowledge of the complicated scientific terms being bandied about, bantering with father figure Hank, parrying with Agent Woo (Randall Park), finding some chemistry with Hope, or trying to justify the faith of his adoring daughter. Douglas and Lawrence Fishburne (as Hank’s former assistant) also have some good moments as they bicker over their individual worth amidst their outsize egos. Perhaps the comic highlight (among several potential candidates) is Michael Pena’s faithful sidekick Luis being compelled with truth serum to reveal Ant-Man’s whereabouts—only in a most involved, circuitous, and hilarious manner. Despite all the film’s laughs, the heart of Ant-Man and the Wasp is always in the right place, and as an added bonus, the fight scenes stick around just long enough not to overstay their welcome. Also…don’t forget to stick around for the credits.
Perhaps the most rousing, stirring moment on display in films this summer is when minister and television host Fred Rogers appears before a stern, heretofore unsympathetic Congressional Committee, and eloquently pleads the case for additional funding of Public Television—and manages to win over the Chairman, who tells him, in essence, he’s just saved Public Television. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is one of my favorite films this year, an informative, insightful and moving portrait of Fred Rogers, who became an icon of public television-, for his deceptively simple children’s show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I say deceptively simple because as anyone who watched the show knows, the Neighborhood would try to teach significant moral lessons and confront—in its own gentle way-- certain troublesome aspects about the world in a way that made it palatable for both children and adults. Won’t You Be My Neighbor is obviously a labor of love—for its director, for its participants like the musician Yo-Yo Ma and mainstay Francois (aka Officer) Clemons, as well as members of Mr. Rogers’ family. Morgan Neville’s film is an affectionate, occasionally probing look at a soft-spoken, strong-willed, profoundly compassionate man; it doesn’t say he’s perfect, and there are suggestions that perhaps Mr. Rogers was less comfortable being a father to a few than being a moral beacon for millions of children. And while Rogers was able to use the show to foster tolerance and diversity (witness his casting of Mr. Clemmons), he would discourage Mr. Clemmons from coming out of the closet, since Rogers knew that was one battle he and his show could not win—at that time. Nevertheless, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, is a wonderfully realized depiction of a good man and his tireless efforts to educate and illuminate in occasionally trying times; it is one of the best documentaries in recent memory, and one of the finer films of this year.