Opening Friday, July 6

As a second-tier superhero movie with modest ambitions, Ant-Man and the Wasp works just fine for what it is. It’s the opposite of epic: a goofy, fun sci-fi ride with the spirit of old-school pulp fiction, the kind of adventure you might find in a beat-up copy of Amazing Stories circa 1953.

Paul Rudd returns as Ant-Man, a good-hearted ex-con who can shrink down to the size of an insect thanks to technology developed by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Evangeline Lilly reprises her role as Pym’s daughter, Hope, aka the Wasp, who now has a super-powered suit of her own.

Appropriately enough, the movie keeps the stakes small. There are no planet-devouring villains to fend off, no existential threats to the multiverse. Instead, our heroes endeavor to rescue Pym’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has disappeared into a subatomic dimension known as the quantum realm.

These excursions provide the film’s best visual moments; this is one of the very few times when seeking out the 3-D version of a movie is warranted. The effects team has great fun playing with perspective and toggling the micro/macro switch so that caroming quarks and bosons appear as colossal organic geometries.

The visual designers also deliver some clever riffs on standard-issue action movie scenes. A car chase through San Francisco takes on a new dimension, quite literally, as the vehicles flip to Matchbox size and back again. The usual fight scenes go pleasantly haywire as our heroes dispatch the goons using radical shifts in scale.

Such conceptual design flourishes power the movie’s old-fashioned science-fiction appeal. The featherweight tone keeps everything agreeable so that, for the most part, you won’t even notice the rickety script underneath. Like those old pulp magazine stories, Ant-Man and the Wasp is good, dumb American fun, exuberant and disposable.