FILM REVIEW: ANT-MAN (12A) ****

Paul Rudd as Ant-Man. PA Photo/Zade Rosenthal/Marvel.
Paul Rudd as Ant-Man. PA Photo/Zade Rosenthal/Marvel.
(Back to camera) Garrett Hedlund as Jamie McAllan. (Front of cart) Mary J. Blige as Florence Jackson (also inset)  and Rob Morgan as Hap Jackson.

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Although its ambitions are grander than the incredible shrinking hero of the title, the latest franchise in the cluttered Marvel Comic universe is refreshingly modest compared to the computer-generated bombast of The Avengers.

The script, initially penned by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, and was then revised by Adam McKay and Paul Rudd when Peyton Reed replaced Wright in the director’s chair, leans heavily on deadpan humour.

That changing of the filmmaking guard in 2014 hasn’t negatively impacted on Ant-Man.

Reed’s boisterous action adventure is anchored by a winning lead performance from Rudd.

Here, the actor flexes his comic muscles as well as his abs and pecs, which are flaunted in an obligatory scene of toplessness to prove he hit the gym for the role.

When Rudd’s unlikely hero is invited to become Ant-Man and save the world, his considered response is: ‘I think our first move should be calling The Avengers.’ Sensible.

Rudd invests his reformed do-gooder with charm and chutzpah

Cat burglar Scott Lang (Rudd) is released from San Quentin Penitentiary and resolves to go straight for the sake of his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson).

He shares an apartment with former cellmate Luis (Michael Pena) but struggles to find gainful employment.

Desperate to pay child support to his despairing ex-wife (Judy Greer), Scott agrees to one lucrative heist set up by Luis and two pals (David Dastmalchian, Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris).

Unfortunately, the robbery lands Scott in a police cell, under the glare of Maggie’s new beau, Detective Paxton (Bobby Cannavale).

Inventor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) offers Scott a way out if he agrees to don a superhero outfit, which shrinks the wearer at the touch of a button.

Aided by Hank’s feisty daughter (Evangeline Lilly), Scott masters the suit and learns to mind-control four species of ants.

Humans and insects take on Hank’s former protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who has replicated the Ant-Man technology for his Yellowjacket suit, which he intends to sell to the highest bidder: Hydra.

Ant-Man mines a rich vein of humour to underscore the high-speed acrobatics.

The 3D format is only noticeable when Scott activates the suit and seemingly benign household features, like a running tap, become life-or-death obstacles a la Honey I Shrunk The Kids.

Director Reed has great fun juxtaposing perspectives, especially in a showdown on a child’s train set that is thrilling close-up, with carriages crashing off tracks, but laughably pedestrian when witnessed actual size.

Rudd invests his reformed do-gooder with charm and chutzpah, and Douglas and Lilly provide solid support as the feuding father-daughter dynamic destined for reconciliation.

‘This isn’t some cute technology like the Iron Man suit,’ Hank tells Scott about his invention.

Perhaps not, but this first salvo of Ant-Man is almost as entertaining.