Evangeline Lilly lends superhero sting

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Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly star as the size-changing superhero duo of the Marvel sequel “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”
USA TODAY

The title of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” saves the best for last.

The fun-loving Marvel superhero sequel (★★★ out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters July 6) has everything that made the original “Ant-Man” a quirky, family-friendly treat — same core cast, same size-changing antics, same big heart — but with one exceptional addition: Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp, whose headstrong sting and killer moves make her just as watchable as any of the A-list Avengers. (Take that, Hulk.)

Again directed by Peyton Reed, the second “Ant-Man” catches up with shrinking dude Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) following the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” which landed him in a supermax prison. The FBI has him on house arrest for two years, and his cohorts – inventor supreme Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter/Scott’s love interest Hope van Dyne (Lilly) – are fugitives from the government.

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With just days left of being cooped up in his house, where daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) frequently keeps him company, Scott has an all-too-real dream about Hank’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), the original Wasp, who got lost decades ago in the sub-microscopic, wholly trippy Quantum Realm (which Scott visited in the first film). Although Hank and Hope bristle when he calls, they see Scott’s vision as evidence that it might be possible to enter the Quantum Realm and rescue Janet.

Enter the mysterious Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a new foe who wants to steal Hank’s tech and use it to cure herself of a condition caused by a quantum-energy accident. (It literally tears her apart on a molecular level but does give her some cool abilities, like phasing through walls and moving vehicles.)

Other new characters include Walton Goggins as a Southern-fried black marketeer who sees quantum energy as the “next gold rush” and Randall Park as a nerdy FBI agent wanting to catch Scott being a superhero again. Both characters work to a degree, yet have subplots that slow the story as it progresses toward an epic San Francisco car chase and a fantastic voyage to the Quantum Realm. The returning players work much better, as Scott’s old criminal buddies Luis (Michael Pena), Dave (Tip Harris) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian) provide deliciously wacky comic relief.

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More time spent in the Quantum Realm gives the new “Ant-Man” a neat signature sci-fi bent, as do the size-shifting elements, from Scott using a truck as a scooter as Giant-Man to Hank carrying around a fleet of cars in a Hot Wheels case. Scott also continues his mission to be the best superhero dad he can be, and faces hard decisions about his personal life versus his heroic day job.

While Ant-Man’s technically “the star,” this is most definitely the Wasp’s movie to own, and the smirking, enjoyably no-nonsense role fits Lilly well. It’s all romantic tension and witty banter between Scott and Hope, who needles him about his semi-Avenger status: When he gets stuck the size of a kindergartener, she chides him, “If only Cap could see you now.” Her verbal jabs pack as much punch as her fighting ones, and after spending the first movie with her as a capable woman yearning to be a superhero, watching Wasp finally take flight and foil bad guys with a ginormous Hello Kitty Pez dispenser is a cathartic blast.

Though it takes place before Marvel’s other current film, “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Ant-Man and the Wasp” catches the duo up to Marvel’s present day courtesy of an intriguing post-credits scene, while also giving the insect-scaled twosome a buzzworthy new adventure about balancing family responsibilities with saving the world.

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