Possessing a special suit that enables the wearer to shrink to the size of an ant seems a comically puny superpower to give a hero, yet Paul Rudd’s miniscule Ant-Man punches well above his weight – and so does this engaging Marvel Comics adventure.
When Rudd’s cat burglar Scott Lang illicitly dons the suit – the creation of Michael Douglas’s wary scientist Henry Pym – the film milks the humour inherent in the perils he initially faces: from being sluiced down a bathtub plughole to getting sucked up by a vacuum cleaner.
And there are more laughs when Pym recruits the newly released ex-con for a hazardous enterprise and gets his sceptical daughter, Evangeline Lilly’s coolly self-possessed Hope van Dyne, to train him.
The mission itself is standard-issue stuff: Pym wants Scott to steal the potentially harmful shrinking suit being developed by his former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who aims to put the technology to nefarious use.
And director Peyton Reed (taking over from the project’s original director Edgar Wright) hardly stretches the superhero genre with the ensuing adventure, even if it does involve such uncommon sights as the miniaturised Scott harnessing the aid of a swarm of flying ants.
Add to this a precariously mawkish sub-plot involving Scott’s estranged young daughter and her suspicious police officer stepfather (Bobby Cannavale), and Ant-Man at times risks losing our goodwill.
Fortunately, Rudd’s humorously self-deprecating persona works wonders with the material and he gets terrific support from Michael Peña, who takes the stereotypical Latino sidekick role of Scott’s old cellmate Luis and makes it fizz with good-natured fun.
Indeed, the movie is at its most playfully entertaining when Luis and his petty criminal chums get involved with Scott’s mission, briefly turning the movie into an offbeat heist caper.
Even so, it’s tempting to imagine how even more refreshingly different from usual Marvel fare the film might have been if Shaun of the Dead helmer Wright and his original co-screenwriter, Attack the Block’s Joe Cornish, had stayed in charge and not exited the project over creative differences with the studio.
Certificate 12. Runtime 117 mins. Director Peyton Reed
Ant-Man is available on Blu-ray & DVD from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.