Come midsummer, sometimes the most appealing thing inside the multiplex is the cinematic equivalent of cotton candy.
That is the consensus among critics filing the first reviews for Ant-Man and the Wasp, the Marvel sequel opening two days after Independence Day that arrives as light as quick picnic fare.
And "lightweight," in this case, is no insult, as some film critics say that on the heels of this year's monumental Black Panther and momentous Avengers: Infinity War, they welcome a change-of-pace Marvel movie that instead leads with its punchlines.
Ant-Man and the Wasp - which returns Paul Rudd as the franchise's size-shifting superhero Scott Lang, Michael Douglas as genius ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. physicist Hank Pym and Evangeline Lilly as daughter Hope Van Dyne/the Wasp - receives a respectable "70" average score on Metacritic.com and a solid 89 percent "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Praising the sequel's playfulness, IGN writes that the film "wholeheartedly embraces the inherent ridiculousness of Scott's powers and the predicaments he often finds himself in - mostly by staging some of the most inventive action scenes attempted in any movie franchise, not just Marvel's."
Likewise, Variety lauds the movie's "pleasingly breakneck, now-you-see-it-now-you-don't surreal glee" and calls it "a cunningly swift and delightful comedy of scale" - buoyed by the fact that nothing "cosmic" (like, say, the mission of a murderous Thanos) is at stake.
Variety also has hosannas for returning director Peyton Reed, who this time around has "learned how to operate the heavy machinery of a Marvel superhero movie yet keep it all light and fast and dizzying." Variety notes: "His combat scenes don't overpower. They're well spaced out and actually make visual sense." (Some such scenes involve deploying instantly enlarged toys, and a Hello Kitty Pez dispenser, as massive plastic weapons.)
The Los Angeles Times sees the film's readily reducible buildings as a tidy emblem of the movie's neatly compactible sense of scale, compared with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
"The Disney-Marvel movie cycle and its various subfranchises have always been haunted by dreams of global domination - something craved by emotionally stunted supervillains and ... box-office-hungry studio executives. In this bigger-is-better context, a movie about a hero who finds his strength in tininess is, well, no small thing," the Times writes. "Even multi-billion-dollar enterprises need a bit of modulation every now and then."
The Times adds that the movie - which pivots between super-size and the subatomic - features "zippy action scenes and trippy bursts of kaleidoscopic colour (that) look great in a theater, but in some ways its whimsical sensibility and playful, diverting story might feel just as well suited to the dimensions of your in-flight entertainment screen."
As for the fast-patter, often-wry humor, the Hollywood Reporter writes that this sequel is "probably the most amusing film the company has made since the Kevin Feige reign began a decade ago" at Marvel Studios.
Writes THR: "Trying to slip these wispy little insect characters into a world dominated by the likes of Thor, Thanos, Iron Man, Hulk, Drax and so many bulging others was always a long-shot challenge, so it was a smart move to push a disarming sense of humor to the forefront in this series."
Michael Peña and Randall Park also earn raves for their hilarious supporting parts.
Writes the A.V. Club: While " 'Thor: Ragnarok' may be kookier, funnier and more irreverent, 'Ant-Man and the Wasp' is arguably even more of a straightforward comedy, to the point that it doesn't even have a primary villain ... even as the characters keep getting lost in digressive back-and-forths on subjects ranging from truth serums to the value of springing for a deluxe car wash."
Throwing roses at the acting, Rolling Stone writes that "Rudd is a winning combination of sass and sincerity. And it's a kick to watch Lilly break out and let her star shine. She hasn't had a part this juicy since she played Kate Austen on Lost; her smarts and screen presence lift the movie over its rough spots."
Entertainment Weekly, on the other hand, isn't laughing along, finding the winking humor to be too much meringue on a summertime dessert.
"This is one of those Marvel products peddling self-aware detachment as a defining narrative strategy," EW writes. "Scientists will say science stuff - 'quantum realm,' 'quantum entanglement,' 'quantum tunnel' - and then Scott/Ant-Man will deadpan that everyone says 'quantum' too much. Characters joke so much about 'Captain America: Civil War' that you start to wonder if you paid movie-ticket prices to read the Internet two years ago. It feels less like a feature film than a meme somebody made about an Ant-Man trailer."
And Paste magazine serves up a similarly cutting critique, writing that Ant-Man is "the least essential of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe characters, and 'Ant-Man and the Wasp' is unquestionably the least essential of the MCU movies, occasionally agreeable but ultimately disposable, a bauble that feels less like a fun side journey and more like a waste of everybody's time."
Adds Paste: "Outside the context of the whole MCU world, this is just a minor movie, a cheerful if empty entertainment. But since when are you supposed to be context-free in the MCU? It feels like Marvel twiddling its thumbs."