About two months ago, Marvel released Avengers: Infinity War, featuring pretty much every superhero in existence (except Hawkeye) fighting for the fate of the entire universe. Next year we’ll see that conflict resolved in Avengers 4. In between, here is Ant-Man and the Wasp as a kind of cinematic intermezzo to cleanse the palate between rounds of high-stakes intergalactic warfare. It’s about as unassuming as a movie about a man who can grow 65 feet tall could be, and in its relatively subdued scale, it is fairly refreshing and fun.

It’s also slightly better than the first Ant-Man, which never seemed to fully discover its identity after the departure of its original director, Edgar Wright, during pre-production. This sequel, directed by Peyton Reed (who also replaced Wright on Ant-Man), finds a groove amplifying the stuff that worked in the first movie, first and foremost the comic riffing by stars Paul Rudd and Michael Peña as ex-con-turned-superhero Scott Lang and his former cellmate Luis.

This time out Scott, Luis, and their other former criminal buddies have started their own security company called X-Con. But the business is struggling; Scott remains under house arrest as a result of his actions in Captain America: Civil War. (If you missed that film or the first Ant-Man and want to see this one, sorry you’re totally screwed.) Scott only needs to stay out of trouble for a few more days and his supervised release will end, so of course that’s exactly when his old shrinking scientist pals Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) show up at his house, demanding his help.

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From there, a whole bunch of sprawling plots follow; arguably more than anyone wants from an Ant-Man movie where the primary pleasures remain Rudd’s bumbling (in this one, his suit keeps malfunctioning at inopportune moments) and Peña’s monologuing (he gets one show-stopping sequence while Luis is on truth serum that’s a comic tour de force). That good stuff has to compete for screentime with Hank’s quest to rescue Hope’s long-lost mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the “quantum realm,” a new villain known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) who wants Janet for her own nefarious reasons, and a shady arms dealer (Walton Goggins) who keeps hounding Hank and Hope in an attempt to steal their technology.

By the climax, when four or five different parallel plots are all running simultaneously, Ant-Man and the Wasp gets a little busy. At least one heavily hinted at subplot never gets resolved at all. (I guess we’ll have to wait for Ant-Man and the Wasp and Luis to find out.) Generally the movie works best in a more laid-back key, with Rudd bonding with his adorable daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) or awkwardly trying to sweet talk his parole officer (Randall Park).

Ant-Man and the Wasp does cleverly build off the first film. Scott Lang wound up with a dog-sized ant as a pet at the end of Ant-Man, so now Hank Pym uses embiggened ants as laboratory assistants. Scott started throwing projectiles that could grow or shrink inanimate objects; in the sequel there are size-changing cars and an office building that gets zapped down and becomes a rolling suitcase. (It even has a pull-out handle.) The physics of how all this works (not to mention how the electricity, heating, and indoor plumbing work) is best unconsidered, but it’s still fun to see the creative ways Reed and his writers (all five of them, including Rudd) think up to take advantage of a group of heroes that can change size.

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It is a little strange to go from the madness of Infinity War to the relative calm of Ant-Man and the Wasp. (The film mostly ignores the events of its direct MCU predecessor, although its big cliffhanger ending is addressed.) Ideally, this film would have come out at a time when it didn’t have to deal with Infinity War’s fallout at all. On the other hand, Infinity War’s dense plot meant it had almost no time for the the smaller character moments that are a Marvel trademark. Fittingly, Ant-Man and the Wasp has plenty of them.

Additional Thoughts:
-Marvel’s gimmick of de-aging characters in flashbacks was introduced in the first Ant-Man, and it’s gotten so good three years later that I’m wondering if they might try to make an entire movie set in the past, starring older actors playing their younger selves. A few years ago I would have thought that was a terrible idea. But the young Michael Douglas and Michele Pfeiffer are so good in Ant-Man and the Wasp, I’m rethinking that position.

-My biggest nitpick with this film: In the first Ant-Man, Hank Pym says he can’t put on the Ant-Man suit anymore because using shrinking technology “took its toll” on him; later we learn that shrinking has driven the bad guy insane. So how come in this movie that never comes up, and now they’re driving around in cars that shrink and grow at the pull of a lever? It seems like they want us to forget that whole shrinking-is-dangerous thing.

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