A Marvel Cinematic Oscar History: Best Supporting Actress

Wrapping up my look back at the 110 Oscar nominees and 20 winners that have appeared in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since Iron Man in 2008 and continuing through its next two releases (Black Widow and The Eternals), we arrive at Best Supporting Actress. If you missed my posts for the lead races and Supporting Actor, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/04/12/a-marvel-cinematic-oscar-history-best-actor/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/04/14/a-marvel-cinematic-oscar-history-best-actress/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/04/16/a-marvel-cinematic-oscar-history-best-supporting-actor/

Supporting Actress has the least number of nominees (19), but equals the most victories with six (tying Best Actor). We start with those six gold recipients:

Tilda Swinton, who appeared in Doctor Strange, won in 2007 for Michael Clayton

Marisa Tomei, Aunt May in the Spider-Man pics, was a surprise victor in 1992 for My Cousin Vinny

Cate Blanchett, the villainess in Thor: Ragnarok, in 2004 for The Aviator

Lupita Nyong’o, of Black Panther, for 2013’s 12 Years a Slave

Rachel Weisz, who’s in the forthcoming Black Widow, for 2005’s The Constant Gardner

Angelina Jolie, who will appear in The Eternals, in 1999’s Girl, Interrupted

As for the 13 other nominees:

Scarlett Johansson, aka Black Widow, for last year’s Jojo Rabbit

Natalie Portman, Thor’s flame, for 2004’s Closer

Glenn Close, who appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy, is a three-time nominee in this category for 1982’s The World According to Garp, 1983’s The Big Chill, and 1984’s The Natural

Rachel McAdams, also of Doctor Strange, for 2015’s Spotlight

Marisa Tomei was nominated twice more after her Vinny win for 2001’s In the Bedroom and 2008’s The Wrestler

Cate Blanchett received two additional nods for 2006’s Notes on a Scandal and 2007’s I’m Not There

Annette Bening, from Captain Marvel, for 1990’s The Grifters

Florence Pugh, costar of the upcoming Black Widow, for last year’s Little Women

Rachel Weisz received another nod for 2018’s The Favourite 

And that concludes my look back on the MCU and its Oscar pedigree. Hope you enjoyed!

A Marvel Cinematic Oscar History: Best Supporting Actor

Continuing with my series showcasing the voluminous amount of Oscar nominees and winners that have appeared in the 25 Marvel Cinematic Universe pictures (including the upcoming Black Widow and The Eternals), we arrive at Best Supporting Actor.

If you missed my previous posts covering the lead performers in Actor and Actress, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/04/12/a-marvel-cinematic-oscar-history-best-actor/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/04/14/a-marvel-cinematic-oscar-history-best-actress/

Supporting Actor, of the four acting categories, contains the most nominees at 36. However, there are only 4 wins represented. As a reminder, the MCU has given us 110 total nominees and 20 golden recipients.

Let’s start with the four gentlemen who made a trip to the podium:

Sam Rockwell, who costarred in Iron Man 2, took gold in 2017 for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri 

Tommy Lee Jones, who appeared in Captain America: First Avenger, emerged victorious in 1993 for The Fugitive

Benicio del Toro, who memorably appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy, won in 2000 for Traffic

J.K. Simmons, who popped up in Spider-Man: Far From Home reprising his role as J. Jonah Jameson from the original Spidey trilogy, won in 2014 for Whiplash

And now the 29 additional performers who received nods:

Tony Stark himself, Robert Downey Jr., received a nomination in 2008 for Tropic Thunder

Jeff Bridges, the Iron Man villain, is a four-time nominee for 1971’s The Last Picture Show, 1974’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, 2000’s The Contender, and Hell or High Water in 2016

Samuel L. Jackson, who has played Nick Fury in numerous MCU entries, got a nod in 1994 for Pulp Fiction

Edward Norton, who was the Hulk before Mark Ruffalo, is a two-time nominee for 1996’s Primal Fear and 2014’s Birdman

Tim Roth, bad guy in Norton’s The Incredible Hulk, for 1995’s Rob Roy

William Hurt, whose MCU appearances also began in The Incredible Hulk, for 2005’s A History of Violence

Sam Rockwell was nominated a year after his Billboards win in 2018 for Vice

Anthony Hopkins, Thor’s dad, for 1997’s Amistad and last year’s The Two Popes

Stanley Tucci, also of Captain America: First Avenger, in 2010 for The Lovely Bones

Mark Ruffalo is a three-time nominee: 2010’s The Kids Are All Right, 2014’s Foxcatcher, and in 2015 for Spotlight

Jeremy Renner, aka Hawkeye, in 2010’s The Town

Ben Kingsley, from Iron Man 3, is a two-time mention for 1991’s Bugsy and 2001’s Sexy Beast

Benicio del Toro also received a nomination for 2003’s 21 Grams

Bradley Cooper, Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy, for 2013’s American Hustle

Djimon Hounsou, who first appeared in Guardians, for both 2003’s In America and 2006’s Blood Diamond

John C. Reilly, another Guardians performer, for 2002’s Chicago

Josh Brolin, aka Thanos, for 2008’s Milk

Sylvester Stallone, who appeared in the Guardians sequel, for 2015’s Creed

Matt Damon, who had a cameo in Thor: Ragnarok, for Invictus in 2009

Jude Law, from Captain Marvel, received a nomination 20 years earlier for The Talented Mr. Ripley

Jake Gyllenhaal, villain for Spider-Man: Far From Home, for 2005’s Brokeback Mountain

And that does it for now, folks! I’ll have Supporting Actress up in short order…

 

 

A Marvel Cinematic Oscar History: Best Actress

Today brings part two of my exploration of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the rather astonishing number of actors in the MCU that have received Oscar nominations or won. The total is 110 nominations and 20 wins. I started with the lead performers who received Best Actor nods and victories. If you missed that post, you can find it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/04/12/a-marvel-cinematic-oscar-history-best-actor/

We move to Best Actress and the numbers there are bit lower. For Actor, it’s 33 nominations and 6 wins, encompassing 23 total men. For Actress, it’s 11 women who’ve received a tally of 22 nominations and 4 trips to the stage. The reasoning behind this could be simple. It wasn’t until the 22nd MCU pic (last year’s Captain Marvel) where a female received overall top billing. And Captain Marvel herself is among the 4 victorious thespians. I’ll remind you that I am including Marvel’s next two features (Black Widow and The Eternals) in the count.

Let’s break them down by winners first:

Gwyneth Paltrow, Iron Man’s main squeeze Pepper Potts, won in 1998 for Shakespeare in Love

Natalie Portman, girlfriend to Thor in those first two pics, won in 2010 for Black Swan

Cate Blanchett, nemesis to the Asgard God in Thor: Ragnarok, took the prize in 2013 for Blue Jasmine

Captain Marvel Brie Larson was a gold recipient in 2015 for Room

Here are the 18 nominees:

Scarlett Johansson, Black Widow, scored her first leading actress nod last year for Marriage Story

Natalie Portman was additionally nominated in 2016 for Jackie

Glenn Close, who appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy, is a four-time nominee in the lead category for 1987’s Fatal Attraction, 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons, 2011’s Albert Nobbs, and 2018’s The Wife

Cate Blanchett received three more nods for 1998’s Elizabeth, 2007 sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and 2015’s Carol

Angela Bassett, mother to Black Panther, was nominated for her portrayal of Tina Turner in 1993’s What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Michelle Pfeiffer, costar of Ant-Man and the Wasp, is a three-time contender for 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons (alongside Close), 1989’s The Fabulous Baker Boys, and 1992’s Love Field

Annette Bening, from Captain Marvel, is also a three-time hopeful for 1999’s American Beauty, 2004’s Being Julia, and 2010’s The Kids Are All Right

Salma Hayek, from the upcoming The Eternals, scored a nomination for 2002’s Frida

Angelina Jolie, also from The Eternals, got a nod for 2008’s Changeling

I’ll have Supporting Actor up in short order!

A Marvel Cinematic Oscar History: Best Actor

I was rewatching Avengers: Endgame over the weekend and it once again struck me how many famous actors are in that thing. I mean… seriously. It’s rather amazing. This got me thinking and yes, current world events may have given me an opportunity to do so:

Just how many performers that have been in Marvel Cinematic Universe entries have won Oscars or been nominated for Oscars? I knew the number would be high, but the answer still astonished me. In fact, you have to back to 1981 for a year where no actor that eventually appeared in the MCU didn’t receive a nomination.

If you count Marvel’s next two pictures (Black Widow, The Eternals) and then count the 23 movies prior that started in 2008 with Iron Man, it encapsulates 110 acting nominations and 20 wins! I am not yet putting Christian Bale in there though he’s rumored to be playing the villain in the fourth Thor flick. I’ll wait for confirmation on that. If you did count Bale, the numbers go to 114 nods and 21 Academy victories.

Due to this research, I’m writing 4 blog posts dedicated to each acting race and we begin with Best Actor:

The leading man category makes up 33 out of the 110 nominations with 6 wins. The victorious gentlemen are as follows:

Jeff Bridges, the main baddie in Iron Man, won in 2009 for Crazy Heart

William Hurt, who appeared in The Incredible Hulk and other MCU titles, took Best Actor in 1985 for Kiss of the Spider Woman

Anthony Hopkins, aka Thor’s Dad, was stage bound in 1991 for his iconic role as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs

Ben Kingsley, who sparred with Tony Stark in Iron Man 3, is a 1982 recipient in the title role of Gandhi

Michael Douglas, who appeared in both Ant-Man pics, was Best Actor in 1987 for Wall Street

Forest Whitaker, who costarred in Black Panther, took gold in 2006 for The Last King of Scotland

Aside from the winners, here are the other 27 Actor nods:

Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr., for 1992’s Chaplin

Terrence Howard, who was in the first Iron Man, for 2005’s Hustle & Flow

Jeff Bridges scored two additional nominations for 1984’s Starman and 2010’s True Grit

Edward Norton, who was Hulk before Mark Ruffalo, for 1998’s American History X

William Hurt, like fellow winner Bridges, also landed two other nods for 1986’s Children of a Lesser God and 1987’s Broadcast News

Don Cheadle, who replaced Terrence Howard in Iron Man 2 and more, for 2004’s Hotel Rwanda

Mickey Rourke, the villain in Iron Man 2, for 2008’s The Wrestler

Anthony Hopkins, following his Lambs victory, was nominated twice more for 1993’s The Remains of the Day and 1995’s Nixon

Tommy Lee Jones, from Captain America: First Avenger, for 2007’s In the Valley of Elah

Jeremy Renner, aka Hawkeye, for his breakthrough role in 2009’s The Hurt Locker

Robert Redford, who was in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, surprisingly only has one acting nod for 1973’s The Sting. He is, however, a twice nominated director and won in 1980 for Ordinary People 

Bradley Cooper, Rocket in Guardians of the Galaxy, has been nominated thrice with no wins: 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook, 2014’s American Sniper, and 2018’s A Star Is Born

Benedict Cumberbatch, aka Doctor Strange, for 2014’s The Imitation Game

Chiwetel Ejiofor, also in Doctor Strange, for 2013’s 12 Years a Slave

Sylvester Stallone, who popped up in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, for his signature role in 1976’s Rocky

Michael Keaton, the villain in Spider-Man: Homecoming, for 2014’s Birdman

Matt Damon, who had a memorable cameo in Thor: Ragnarok, is twice nominated for 1997’s Good Will Hunting and 2015’s The Martian

Daniel Kaluuya, Black Panther costar, for 2017’s Get Out

Laurence Fishburne, supporting player in Ant-Man and the Wasp, as Ike Turner in 1993’s What’s Love Got to Do With It

Jude Law, from Captain Marvel, for 2003’s Cold Mountain 

Whew. And there you have it. I’ll be back at it shortly with the Best Actress nominees who got their Marvel on!

Daily Streaming Guide: March 23rd Edition

Today’s Daily Streaming Guide brings us a must watch for horror fans who like a little comedy and irreverence spliced in!

2012’s The Cabin in the Woods is streaming on Hulu. What begins as a seemingly run-of-the-mill scary pic about college students being terrorized in a cabin takes all kinds of unexpected and often humorous turns. The film is cowritten by Joss Whedon and a month after its release, he struck box office gold with the first Avengers. This is directed by his colleague Drew Goddard (making his debut) with a cast includes Thor himself Chris Hemsworth, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford doing sublime work, and genre legend Sigourney Weaver in a small yet pivotal role.

Cabin wasn’t a big hit at the multiplexes, but it’s deservedly achieved cult status since. I find it to be one of the wildly entertaining flicks of its kind in recent times.

That’s all for now, folks! Until next time…

Avengers: Endgame Movie Review

**There’s really no way to write a review of Avengers: Endgame without some minor spoilers. You may wish to read this post viewing…

The word “epic” can be overused by those who review movies like me, but it unquestionably applies to Avengers: Endgame. It’s epic in its running time (none of the other 21 MCU pics run three hours) and epic in the number of well-known thespians reprising their superhero and villain characters. It doesn’t seem feasible that so many characters could manage to coexist in this vast universe without seeming like a gimmick. If you happen to think predecessor Infinity War was overcrowded, you’ll get whiplash here. Truth be told, there are moments when this borders on playing like a greatest hits reel based on what’s preceded it during the last eleven years.

Yet Endgame figures out a rewarding way to stick the landing and honor the dozens of faces that we’ve spent billions of dollars visiting since 2008. At the conclusion of Infinity War, bad guy Thanos (Josh Brolin) had collected his precious Infinity Stones and decimated half the intergalactic population into dramatic looking dust particles. What’s left is mostly the core of the OG Avengers – Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). There’s others as Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) is the sole surviving Guardian of the Galaxy. And we have the two notable characters that were MIA last summer – Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).

One might think this whole saga might be about the original band and some newer friends taking on Thanos. You would be wrong. Endgame has plenty of time bending tricks up its endless story arch sleeves. The first is an unexpected resolution that comes very early. However, that climax is just a set-up to further complications.

This is indeed a time travel movie in which the screenwriters almost sheepishly concede the contrived nature of such a device. The survivors set upon a course of multiple back in time ways to retrieve the Stones and bring back their loved ones. It doesn’t happen overnight and the lengthy nature of the plan coming together provides funny and poignant moments. Tony is off the grid with his beloved Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a new addition. Bruce is in full Hulk mode, but kindler and gentler. Thor is rounder and drunkenly grappling with his losses. Hawkeye is a full-blown vigilante. When the gang revs up their figurative DeLoreans, it gives us a chance to revisit lots of MCU personnel. And it’s a LOT of former players. Some are genuinely surprising. During this lengthy stretch, the film walks a fine line of not devolving into nostalgic sugar shock amidst the action sequences. By the final act, it rises above it.

We know the battle scenes will be well choreographed and well-directed (with the Russo Brothers handling duties once again). The final one is rather jaw dropping with the mixing of so many known quantities. Thanos is one of the stronger villains in MCU history and he remains so here, though there’s nothing fresh to add about his character. His daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan), on the other hand, continues her evolution as a fine addition to the roster.

The comic relief comes more from Thor as opposed to Ant-Man or Rocket and Hemsworth is up to the task. Captain America and Black Widow are given their emotional moments that we’re invested in from their backstories. To this writer, it’s Tony who’s always been the damaged beating heart of this franchise. The Marvel Cinematic Universe simply wouldn’t exist as it is without Downey Jr.’s brilliant work. That’s never changed. The quality of the movies he’s appeared in has. His performance has always been fantastic. If we’re ranking, I would put Endgame as an overall experience just under the first Avengers in 2012 and Infinity War. I can’t promise that thinking about all the shifting time plot points might raise as many questions as answers. I won’t deny that its emotional payoff is real and we have Downey and an amazing group of technicians bringing these comics to life to thank for it.

***1/2 (out of four)

Avengers: Endgame Box Office Prediction

This current massively successful phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe draws to a close next weekend with the release of Avengers: Endgame. There’s an excellent chance that it achieves the largest opening weekend gross of all time with the grand finale. Endgame follows up directly with last summer’s Avengers: Infinity War, which is the current record holder with $257 million.

Anthony and Joe Russo return in the directors chairs with a core group of familiar heroes battling Josh Brolin’s Thanos. They include Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. That’s just scratching the surface, by the way. The events (spoiler alert if you’ve been in a year-long coma) of Infinity War dissolved numerous other beloved characters into dust including Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange and the majority of the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista) save for Bradley Cooper voicing Rocket. It’s quite likely you’ll see them again. And also in the roles we’ve seen them in before… there’s Gwyneth Paltrow, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Tessa Thompson, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, and Evangeline Lilly. Oh… and Letitia Wright and Sebastian Stan and Tom Hiddleston.

Whew. Back to the numbers crunching. When early tickets went on sale a couple of weeks ago, Endgame smashed every record in sight. Its YouTube trailer views are off the charts. Audiences know this is the culmination of what we’ve paid billions of dollars for over the past decade plus. Yes, there’s a three-hour runtime which is unprecedented for the MCU.

I have a feeling that won’t matter when it comes to reaching a premiere level we’ve yet to witness. No other movie is daring to compete against it and most holdovers will be earning $10 million and less. In other words, multiplexes will clear a ton of real estate for this.

Initial estimates put Endgame around $250 million, but the buzz has this inching upwards. I believe that’s a correct assumption. While I don’t believe this will hit $300 million (as the rosiest projections suggest), a gross just north of $285 million seems feasible. If it achieves that mark, the endgame here will indeed set records.

Avengers: Endgame opening weekend prediction: $289.6 million

Aquaman Movie Review

In movies nowadays, the superhero genre has become so popular that a rule now applies to well-known thespians. You can play a hero or then you act long enough to see yourself become the villain. Or vice versa. Patrick Wilson was a good guy in Watchmen and now he’s a bad guy in Aquaman. Willem Dafoe was the key villain in SpiderMan, but he’s an ally to the title character here. As for Nicole Kidman, she was Bruce Wayne’s love interest in Batman Forever. Now she’s Aquamom.

This is all in a feature-length experience that HBO’s “Entourage” treated with humor. The thought back then… who would really buy this comic book creation in his own two-hour saga? Director James Wan’s weird but often endearing take ups the ante by padding nearly an extra half hour. It sorta works. It does by knowing that it’s silly most of the time despite occasional meanderings into thinking it belongs in Lord of the Rings territory. While it doesn’t, some of the battle scenes approach that grandeur.

We’ve seen Aquaman before in the DC Extended Universe. He was introduced briefly in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (which I still think is a little better than its reputation) and his role was expanded in the sub par Justice League. He gets the whole origin treatment here. In 1985, the Queen of Atlantis names Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) washes up on shore after a storm in Maine. She makes the acquaintance of the local lighthouse keeper (Temuera Morrison) and Splash style romantic sparks fly. Leaving her King hubby behind underwater, Atlanna and her new flame bear a son named Arthur and that little tyke eventually becomes the heavily tattooed punk rockish muscle man embodied by Jason Momoa.

As we witnessed in the previously mentioned pics, Momoa’s Aquaman becomes a mysterious superhero above water when not chugging beers with Dad. Atlanna, on the other hand, is long gone after being hunted down by her husband’s henchmen and returning below the surface so her new family isn’t harmed. She’s said to be dead.

Soon enough, Arthur is pressured to see Atlantis for the first time. His half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson) is hell-bent on becoming the ruling Ocean Master. That means the destruction of Earth is on his to do list. Mera (Amber Heard) is the daughter of an Atlantean  King (Dolph Lundgren) allied with Orm. She disagrees with her father and along with Arthur’s old mentor (Willem Dafoe), they attempt to recruit our hero to become the King himself.

The family drama is a very familiar plot point in most movies in the genre – no matter which cinematic universe it takes place in. This is no exception. Orm is the Loki to Aquaman’s Thor, but he’s not near as memorable. Mera is the love interest and she has some humorous moments due to her unfamiliarity with our land. Those light moments reminded me of Gal Gadot’s acclamations to her fresh surroundings in Wonder Woman. And while we’re talking similar plot themes, this will remind you of Black Panther from time to time.

There’s only so much you can accomplish with this well-worn origin stuff, but James Wan conjures up a visually vibrant tale with an engaging lead. Momoa’s Aquaman is a bit of a Hulk like creation who seems impervious to harm. Frankly, the tension is a bit watered down because it seems like he could swat Orm off like a fly. Yet the action sequences are effective when they’re not too weighed down in confusing CG mayhem. The best one takes place in Italy when all the players remain dry. Aquaman is worth the watch, despite its flaws, as it builds plenty of worlds we’ll see again and with more details. This uses what seems like a record of title cards to tell us where we are as the plot moves along. Unlike other films where we might see “St. Louis” with The Arch in frame, they’re necessary here. Most of the places we visit come with acceptable levels of entertainment value.

*** (out of four)

Ranking The MCU

**(09/18/19): Updated with all MCU movies ranked through Spider-Man: Far From Home

As of today with AntMan and the Wasp, I’ve now seen all 20 Marvel Cinematic Universe titles that began just over a decade ago with Iron Man. That seemed like a nice round number to do my initial rankings of them. I will plan to update the list as time goes on, beginning next spring with Captain Marvel.

I’ve seen some of them more than others and my opinion for certain ones have risen and fallen over time. For instance, Captain America: Civil War has grown in my appreciation of it. On a lesser scale, my disappointment for Avengers: Age of Ultron has dissipated a bit. And while I’m still in the minority for believing The Dark World is a little better than the original Thor, it’s not too good and has lost some luster in my view.

So we arrive at my listing of the 23 MCU titles thus far! Let the debating begin…

23. AntMan (2015)

22.  Iron Man 2 (2010)

21. Thor (2011)

20. Thor: The Dark World (2013)

19. The Incredible Hulk (2008)

18. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011

17. AntMan and the Wasp (2018)

16. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

15. Captain Marvel (2019)

 

14. SpiderMan: Far From Home (2019)

13. SpiderMan: Homecoming (2017)

12. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

11. Doctor Strange (2016)

10. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

9. Iron Man 3 (2013)

8. Avengers: Endgame (2019)

7. Black Panther (2018)

6. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

5. Captain America: Civil War (2016)

4. Iron Man (2008)

3. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

1. The Avengers (2012

Ant-Man and the Wasp Movie Review

Size matters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the decade old multi-billion franchise reached its most epic heights in Avengers: Infinity War. The only superhero who’s had their own stand-alone pic not to appear in that gargantuan production was Ant-Man, the character brought to life by Paul Rudd in the summer of 2015. Sequel AntMan and the Wasp follows a traditional Avengers tale like the original did. To say it feels smaller in scope is an understatement. Part one often failed to strike a satisfying mix and surprisingly struggled to make Rudd’s title character a memorable one. Whereas Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord were instantly iconic heroes, it didn’t work that way in AntMan. That’s despite its star’s well-known ability to mix comedy and drama and some nifty visuals that made the third act a treat.

Rarely do we find an MCU effort without parental issues involved and they’re here. Scott Lang/Ant-Man is nearing the end of a two-year house arrest bid based on the events from Captain America: Civil War. His former love interest Hope/heroine Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and science wiz dad Hank (Michael Douglas) are hiding out as well while conducting experiments to find their mom and wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). She’s been stuck for three decades in the quantum realm that Ant-Man briefly visited in the original. His experience there leads Hope and Hank to believe she’s alive and the search is on. The technology that leads to that mystical place is sought by a low life criminal (Walton Goggins) and his crew. The FBI is curious about it, including the main agent (Randall Park in amusing turn) tasked with monitoring Scott. And then there’s Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a molecular challenged young lady who has her own reasons to gain powers. She teams up with a former colleague of Hank’s played by Laurence Fishburne.

If you’re thinking that’s a lot of characters to follow, I haven’t even mentioned Scott’s returning daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), ex-wife (Judy Greer), and current husband (Bobby Cannavale). There’s also his business partners and occasional fellow crime fighters including Michael Pena and T.I. So while there’s plenty of action to follow, the MCU knows how to make it easy to follow. Compared to Infinity War, the amount of subplots seems practically minuscule.

Wasp finds Rudd settling more comfortably in the role and more humorously. That’s an aspect that was oddly not around much in 2015. Finding Scott with Pfeiffer’s character in his head in one scene provides some genuine laughs. Like in the original, Mr. Douglas appears to be having a ball. He gets his own chance to save the day at one point while his counterparts are engaged in a visually impressive car chase in the streets of San Francisco. Lilly doesn’t just share title credit here. She does have more to do.

AntMan and the Wasp is an improvement over the first. That’s a trait shared by other MCU sequels, especially in the Captain America and Thor series. Peyton Reed returns as director and the whole production feels more confident. It also doesn’t have the burden of being an origin story… something we go through a lot with this constantly growing genre. Like many of its subjects, the importance of what happens in these two hours feels small compared to the grand scale of other stories in this universe. More so than in 2015, however, Ant-Man’s existence in it feels welcome.

*** (out of four)