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Front Page - Friday, July 13, 2018

Critic's Corner: Embrace the stupid, enjoy ‘Ant-Man’ for what it is

To enjoy “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” you’re going to have to embrace the stupid. That includes the part where you step up to the cashier at the theater and, with a straight face, ask for a ticket to “Ant-Man and the Wasp,”

It’s OK to embrace the stupid. Marvel did. What else can you say about a movie that features a fake-looking giant ant sitting on a sofa eating Fruit Loops out of the box?

Once I embraced the stupid, I had a good time.

I laughed quite a bit, although not as much as I think the writers hoped I would. While humor has been a mainstay of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I can’t recall a film in the series that was more eager to make people laugh.

If the “Ant-Man” sequel were turned into a drinking game in which you knocked back a shot with each gag, quip and jibe, you’d miss a couple jokes each time you filled your glass. The film’s vibe is so relentlessly jovial, it felt like the guys who made the thing were sitting next to me in the theater, elbowing me in the ribs and saying, “Isn’t this fun?!”

Some of the jokes don’t stick, but enough of them do. I especially liked the bit where Luis, Ant-Man’s former cellmate and current business partner, is injected with truth serum and turns into a motormouth.

Michael Peña, the actor who plays Luis, is terrific throughout the movie and one of the few comedic actors who seems to be able to improvise well on film. During his truth serum outburst, he spews a line about loading the office dishwasher that’s so well timed and funny, I laughed loud enough to draw a couple of sideways glances.

I also enjoyed the action. In the “Ant-Man” movies, a scientist named Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has created special suits that enable the wearer to either shrink to the size of an ant or grow into a towering behemoth. Using special devices, one can also make objects such as salt shakers, vehicles and even buildings shrink or grow and then return them to their normal size.

The filmmakers use this set-up to put a fresh spin on some tired old action movie tropes, such as the car chase. Instead of familiar shots of cars screeching around corners, plowing through hotdog stands and doing flips after colliding with one another, you get the Wasp shrinking down the vehicle she’s driving, maneuvering herself under the car that’s pursuing her and returning to normal size, sending the bad guys popping into the air like a kernel of Jiffy Pop.

The folks who choreographed the action didn’t rely on a few money shots to carry the film, either, but pushed the concept to its limits by including a nice variety of stunts involving Pym’s technology.

You might wonder how a building that’s shrunk, transported and returned to normal size several times manages to always have power when it’s not hooked up to any public utilities, but that’s beside the point. Like with the jokes, you’re meant to just go with the flow.

What else? Maybe a bit about the story. The film opens with Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man, enduring house arrest after his antics in “Captain America: Civil War.” But he’s lured out of house and home when Pym and his daughter, Hope (the Wasp), ask him to help them enter the quantum realm and rescue Pym’s wife and Hope’s mom, who was presumably stranded there in the ‘80s.

Opposing forces include a black-market dealer who wants to steal Pym’s technology and then sell it to the highest bidder and a ghostly female figure that appears to phase in and out of the physical realm, allowing her to move through walls and punches to move through her.

The story is typical Marvel goofiness but it propels the action and leads to an emotionally satisfying conclusion.

Weak points include Paul Rudd, who brings his trademark charm to the role of Ant-Man, but seems to coast through the film while everyone else gets the best material, and the cheap-looking visualization of the quantum realm. MCU films have grossed over $17 billion to date, so you’d think Marvel and owner Disney could afford to pony up for quality effects.

I don’t think anyone’s complaining, though. “Ant-Man and the Wasp” is exactly what it set out to be and what it needed to be: a fun, breezy action adventure romp. Embrace it.