‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ tries to go big but comes up short

A little Ant-Man goes a long way.

After a lackluster launch in 2015’s “Ant-Man,” former burglar Scott Lang’s (Paul Rudd) extended cameo was one of the highlights of the following year’s “Captain America: Civil War.”

Much like his mentor, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the “Civil War” filmmakers see a potential in Scott that others can’t quite grasp. This is especially true of Rudd and his four — four! — credited co-writers on “Ant-Man and the Wasp” because, once again, the payoff is quite small.

Two years after violating the Sokovia Accords and helping to destroy a large part of an airport in “Civil War,” Scott is about to complete his house arrest. He’s spent that time trying everything to entertain his young daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), including learning — gasp! — close-up magic.

Hank and his daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), meanwhile, are on the lam because it was their Ant-Man suit Scott used to shrink and then grow to gigantic proportions while committing his “crimes.” As part of his sentence, Scott can’t associate with either of them — not that they’d want to, considering he’s the reason for their predicament.

They give in, though, when Scott calls to say he had a vision of Hope’s mother, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). Because this happened while Hank and Hope were tinkering with their quantum tunnel — a cutting-edge means of accessing the Quantum Realm, where Janet has been trapped for 30 years — they’re convinced this means she’s alive and can be saved. As stakes go, that’s pretty much all “Ant-Man and the Wasp” has to offer — the hope of rescuing a character audiences see only briefly in an opening flashback.

Returning director Peyton Reed along with screenwriters Rudd, the duo of Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (“Spider-Man: Homecoming”) and newcomers Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari have delivered a movie so slight, you’ll be hard-pressed to remember any of it by the time you get home.

Five writers and not one of them took the time to create a villain. Ava (Hannah John-Kamen), the young woman known as Ghost, is suffering from something called “molecular disequilibrium” and is simply trying to stay alive. Black-market tech dealer Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins in a rare misfire) has all the gravity of a “Scooby-Doo” baddie. Each of them just barely crosses the threshold into antagonist.

Luis (Michael Pena), Scott’s former partner in crime, earns a few solid laughs out of far too many attempts, but the less said about their cohorts Dave (Tip “T.I.” Harris) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian) the better.

Following in her mother’s tiny footsteps as the Wasp, Hope makes a welcome addition to Marvel’s ever-growing ranks of female heroes — even though she mostly does the same things as Scott, only better and with wings.

What makes “Ant Man and the Wasp” so frustrating is the missed opportunities.

Precious little of the script seems thought out. People, cars and ordinary household items get small, big, or both in succession for no better reason than “because they can.”

Why, when trying to escape danger, would you randomly shrink your car to the size of a Matchbox toy? And what’s keeping that car’s passenger, who isn’t wearing a special suit like Ant-Man’s or the Wasp’s, from being ripped apart at a molecular level when that happens? Who cares? The filmmakers certainly don’t.

Rudd is a likable, gifted comic actor, and “Ant-Man” is tailor-made to his strengths. He’s the perfect anchor for the only outright comedies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yet somehow in his stand-alone movies, Ant-Man comes across as a laid-back, family-friendly Deadpool.

Most families don’t even want a family-friendly Deadpool.

“Thor: Ragnarok,” starring those two notorious crack-ups Chris Hemsworth and Mark Ruffalo, was hilarious. “Ant-Man” practically begs you to guffaw yet comes up short. I recall laughing more during “Avengers: Infinity War.”

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” has some enjoyable small moments.

But, like Ant-Man, who gets woozy when he stretches too tall, the movie gets into trouble whenever it tries to go big.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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