By Bill Wine
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The Marvelization of Hollywood continues as Ant-Man presents itself as this summer's Guardians of the Galaxy.
That is, Ant-Man brings one of Marvel Comics' less established characters to the marketplace in a playful, sometimes even broadly comic vehicle.
Ant-Man is a hybrid: a superhero fantasy and comedic heist thriller all in one that centers on The Incredible Shrinking Superhero.
Paul Rudd stars as ex-convict Scott Lang, an ex-cat burglar in the Robin Hood mold who is recruited by a scientist armed with a suit that allows him to shrink while gaining super-strength and then re-enlarge whenever he wishes.
At the same time, Lang is trying to get back in the good graces of his ex-wife (Judy Greer) and young daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson) by being more reliable in terms of employability and child support.
Michael Douglas plays former scientist and superhero Dr. Hank Pym, based in San Francisco, who long ago invented a suit dubbed the "Pym particle" that allows the wearer to drastically shrink in size while simultaneously gaining considerable strength.
But, fearing it might fall into the wrong hands, Pym has hid it away and denied its existence.
Decades later, Pym's protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stull), the current CEO who took over for Pym, re-discovers the suit and decides to put it to use – to weaponize it. So Pym, against the strenuous objections of his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), recruits Lang to don the suit and become the new Ant-Man, which will at least keep the suit out of Cross's manipulative hands while Pym trains Lang to become an effective superhero.
So effective that, if he needs to, he can organize an army of ants and get those soldiers to do his bidding.
And, wouldn't you know it, that comes in mighty handy.
Director Peyton Reed, whose resume largely features comedy (Bring It On, Down With Love, The Break-Up, Yes Man) is just as interested in wit and charm as he is in special-effect pyrotechnics, but the changing-point-of-view-and-switching-perspective special visual effects are still put to splendid use.
And until the extended climax, he avoids the summer-movie-season temptation of letting conflict-filled set pieces overwhelm and suffocate the narrative. The storytelling here, until the very late going, remains the key. And Reed moves things along at a smoothly rapid pace.
The script by Edgar Wright (who was originally set to direct as well), Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, and Rudd concentrates on family relationships – especially father-daughter bonds, which give the film a strong emotional undercurrent – rather than destructive action, although there's plenty of that as well.
Rudd brings a refreshing everyman quality to this particular superhero, who has mundane problems everyone can relate to. Plus the bonus here is Rudd's likability and ready sense of humor. And Douglas, with just about as much screen time as Rudd, lends his authoritativeness and gravitas to the film in a highly effective way.
So we'll shrink 3 stars out of 4 for Ant-Man, a breezy and likable superhero heist flick. C'mon, put that can of Raid away: we promise you won't get antsy.
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