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Marvel Studios sequels seem to come in three varieties. Some make a concerted effort to recontextualize their central hero by placing him in a new environment (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), while others opt for a more radical approach and essentially reinvent the franchise (Thor: Ragnarok). But Ant-Man and the Wasp takes neither of those first two routes. Rather, like last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, director Peyton Reed’s latest simply takes its characters deeper, expanding the world around them while pushing their stories to a natural progression.

Although Ant-Man and the Wasp takes place in real time (i.e., two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War), Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has become estranged from his former allies Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), as he serves the tail end of his house arrest sentence for helping “Cap” violate the Sokovia Accords in Germany. But when Hank and Hope realize Scott may be the key to rescuing Hank’s long-lost wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm, the trio are off on another adventure, one that brings them into direct conflict with the elusive Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen).

With the stakes set, Ant-Man and the Wasp spirals out into a rip-roaring romp that is as light on its feet as its characters. Rudd and Lilly have even better chemistry than in the first film, Douglas gets far more to do this time around and Michael Peña is an even greater scene-stealer (don’t worry, there is a callback to his signature bit). Even the first one’s greatest flaw — its lackluster villain — is vastly improved for the sequel. Ghost might not be as compelling a figure as Killmonger or Thanos or as much fun to watch as Hela or Loki. Yet, John-Kamen imbues her with a clear perspective, an understandable motivation and, by the end, something resembling an arc. That’s much more than many other villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe ever get (looking at you, Malekith, Ronan, Kaecilius, et al).

From a plot perspective, Ant-Man and the Wasp feels a bit muddled at times, especially during an exposition-heavy scene featuring the great Laurence Fishburne as Hank’s rival Bill Foster. Yet, it moves at such a rapid pace that audiences will rarely have a moment to catch their breath before another joke — a dig at the MCU heroes’ go-to disguises stands out — or thrilling action set piece emerges onscreen. In particular, Ant-Man and the Wasp really hones in on the most important relationship in Scott’s life: the one he shares with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). Although their bond was a key element in the first film, the sequel really brings it to the center, giving Rudd and Fortson plenty of heartfelt material to work with. In addition, Cassie’s more prominent role might just be setting up the character for greater things to come.

Ant-Man And The Wasp

Speaking of characters rising up to claim the spotlight, let’s talk about Hope’s ascension to her mother’s mantle as the Wasp. Lilly’s character barely cracked our recent ranking of the MCU’s most badass women, but that was before we ever saw her suit up. Ant-Man and the Wasp makes the case for why the latter hero is not only superior to her male counterpart but could be an essential part of the MCU going forward. In both of the film’s most memorable action sequences — one involving hand-to-hand combat, the other an extended car chase through the streets of San Francisco — the Wasp is at the forefront. Partly because Lilly is so fun to watch, these scenes are among the film’s greatest highlights.

From beginning to end, Ant-Man and the Wasp is rich in imagination and a true testament to why these characters deserve to be an integral part of the MCU’s future. Although the original film earned $519 worldwide — making it one of the lowest-grossing entries in the franchise — this one could benefit from the post-Avengers bump that helped push Iron Man 3 past the $1 billion mark. For families hungry for more of this world, this particular MCU installment is perhaps the most suitable superhero adventure of the summer and one likely to reward repeat viewings as well.

No one expected Ant-Man and the Wasp to be nearly as epic or grand as something like Avengers: Infinity War. However, as a sequel to Ant-Man, it easily sits among those elite superhero sequels to surpass their prerequisite origin stories. Moreover, the film is one of only two releases coming between Infinity War and next year’s untitled Avengers 4Captain Marvel doesn’t hit until March 2019 — and its mid- and post-credits scenes nicely key up what fans have in store. In short, Ant-Man and the Wasp serves as one of the breeziest entries in the MCU and an effective palate cleanser before Thanos returns to shake his intergalactic fist at Earth’s Mightiest Heroes once more.