Ant-Man’s antics serve up hilarious moments in pursuit of biting comedy

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Conspicuously absent from the cosmic struggles of April’s Avengers: Infinity War was AntMan.

But the Marvel superhero, here teamed with his flying counterpart of the title, is kept very busy indeed in this sequel to his 2015 debut. Ant-Man’s form-fitting suit allows him to instantly resize himself, and other objects, from tiny to giant.

His superpowers also include the ability to communicate with and command ants, like Aquaman can with fish, and this proves surprisingly handy at times.

He’s had several alter-egos since his debut in 1962 in Marvel’s Tales to Astonish, but in the movies he’s Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) a high-tech burglar given the suit by inventor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the original Ant-Man.

Hank’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) takes over the similarly diminutive persona of The Wasp, who also has elegant working wings, from her long-missing mother Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer).

Scott’s been under ankle-bracelet-enforced-house arrest in San Francisco since his mischief in 2016’s Captain America: Civil Wars.

He’s days away from completing his sentence when Hank and Hope press him back into service as Ant-Man, on the chance that Janet could be rescued from the subatomic limbo in which she was lost when Hope was a child.

There’s also a super villain in the mix, a spectral figure called The Ghost, hidden in what resembles a HAZMAT suit.

The Ghost is creepy looking, but for my money doesn’t make as much of an impact on the movie as the buffoonish comic villain, a shady tech dealer played by the reliable Walton Goggins.

Other vets in the cast, like Michael Pena, Laurence Fishburne, Bobby Cannavale and Judy Greer, contribute solid bits as well, and Randall Park is especially funny as an officious FBI man.

But as with Ant-Man the first, Rudd carries the picture—his combination of craggy looks and brash, boyish, unembarrassed silliness connects immediately with the audience.

Lilly’s Wasp is chic and likable, but essentially a “straight” foil for Rudd, and while Douglas is allowed to score some points off his younger costar, it’s Rudd’s reactions to these zingers that really get the laughs. The director of the first film, Peyton Reed, has wisely been returned to the helm for Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Once again Reed uses shifts in perspective to create imaginative, sometimes brilliant parody of grandiose superhero action, and even to generate a casual surrealism, with an office building suddenly the size of a briefcase, or a Hello Kitty PEZ dispenser suddenly the size of a tractor-trailer.

He stages a San Fran chase-scene finale reminiscent of, but far crazier than, Peter Bogdanovich’s 1972 What’s Up, Doc?

There’s method to the madness, however.

As wild as the slapstick is, Reed’s touch is disciplined; he never lets the story get away from him, or the characters go fully farcical. Like its predecessor, like Guardians of the Galaxy and like last year’s Thor: Ragnarok, Ant-Man and the Wasp is yet another Marvel movie played as a full-on comedy.

But it isn’t a sketch comedy. That makes it, maybe, a little less funny than Thor: Ragnarok, but also a little more substantive.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is rated PG-13 and plays at Tempe Marketplace, Chandler Fashion Center, Arizona Mills 25 and other multiplexes Valleywide.

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