***1/2 (out of five)

Relative to the overbearing gargantuism of The Avengers movies, and even those featuring Iron Man and Thor in their own franchises, Ant-Man, directed by Peyton Reed and starring Paul Rudd, feels like a fun little romp, a chamber piece. A heist movie at heart, where the safecracker can also shrink to the size of an ant, it’s got a true lightness of touch that makes it compelling and even heart-warming.

A lot of that’s due to Rudd, who can be relied on to bring the funny; he co-wrote the second draft of the script, and the first draft was co-written by Edgar Wright, so you can see how this is capable of favouring character over action. Contributing to the folksy, home-spun feel (how often can you say that about a movie costing 130 million dollars?) is the fact that probably half the running time is spent in the company of just three characters, played by Rudd, Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas. These three – playing subject of, daughter of and actual mad scientist – experiment and train with shrinkage and ant-control (yes, the actual process of controlling ants like soldier-minions) in a goofy house perched on a San Francisco hill. It’s whacky.

Contributing to the laid-back good times are Michael Peña (who gets the film’s two best comedic set-pieces, a couple of augmented monologues which are both quite brilliant); fun, Incredible Shrinking Man-referencing escapades with drains, rats, big human feet and the like; and the least menacing bad guy I’ve seen in a superhero movie, played by Corey Stoll as kind of a goofball. The special effects are quite cartoony (especially the ants, which are positively cuddleable) and the scenes where Rudd is ant-sized are achieved by keeping a deeply racked focus, making them trippy rather than at all “realistic”.

Closest in style and tone to a caper flick rather than an “adventure”, the level of buoyancy and self-deprecation Ant-Man achieves can best be recognised in its choice of a pink-walled little girl’s bedroom for one of its biggest action scenes. It’s charming and refreshing, and I liked it much more than any other superhero flick this year.

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