ANT-MAN. Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll. Directed by Peyton Reed. 117 minutes. PG (Mild science fiction violence and coarse language).

The juggernaut that is Marvel Entertainment – purveyors of comic book film hits since ‘Iron Man’ in 2008 – takes a step back from saving the world for this slightly more modest effort. Their intimate focus on what boils down to a criminal seeking redemption reaps dividends, aided by a cracking cast, snappy script and pervading sense of fun.

Decades ago, inventor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) invented the miraculous Pym Particle, the fuel behind his incredible Ant-Man suit which allowed its wearer to shrink in size, increase in strength and communicate with ants. Aware of its terrific potential for destruction, he hid his technology, but his protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) spent years replicating his research to sell as military hardware to the highest bidder.

Enter crim Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), fresh from his incarceration for a Robin Hood-esque burglary. Unable to find a job and kept from his young daughter by custody disputes, he is headhunted by Pym to mastermind a heist to steal and destroy Cross’ tech before it can get in the wrong hands. Entrusted with Hank’s old suit, Scott must work with his new mentor’s estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and assemble a team capable of pulling off the heist of the century, and maybe even prove himself worthy of the mantle of Ant-Man.

The film went through widely publicised production issues, with former English writer-director and wunderkind Edgar Wright stepping down at the last minute. In his wake, the script was rewritten by star Paul Rudd and Adam McKay, yet there is surprisingly little evidence of this overhaul. The humour is in turns silly and sly, broad and clever, and the storytelling has a very lean feel. Emotionally, Scott’s redemption is overshadowed by the two father-daughter relationships at the core of the film, which are involving (albeit somewhat transparent in their audience manipulation and destination). There are the requisite ties to the Marvel brand (with – spoiler alert! – an Avenger or two making an appearance), yet they feel like a reasonably organic part of the film’s tone and style. Director Peyton Reed can be commended for his handle on the tone, crafted in an accelerated pre-production following Wright’s departure. Not known as a blockbuster action director, he brings some decent visual style which is expected of the modern heist genre.

The special effects are great, particularly the shrunken environments crafted through a cunning use of macro photography and CGI. The sound design is also impressive when Ant-Man contracts – winged ants take off like helicopters and an electric trainset runs like a Japanese bullet train. In the cast, Marvel has yet again managed to attract a roster of top-tier talent. Paul Rudd becomes an effective leading man, utilising his comic ability alongside a new svelte physique. Michael Douglas growls his way to a memorable turn, though Evangeline Lilly steals some of his thunder as his very capable and intelligent daughter. Corey Stoll’s villain veers into ham more than once, though a mind alteration plot device may be to blame. All this said, Michael Peña is the stand out in the film as Luis, Scott’s friend and fellow outlaw whose delivery of exposition points crafts the movie’s funniest sequences.

This is Marvel’s first film to be released here with a PG rating (all the others were M), and this sums up the film pretty well – it’s a lighter film, which feels more old school, more ‘Tales to Astonish’ as one character puts it. While not the greatest superhero film ever made, it continues Marvel’s winning run, and should prove a family pleasing affair.

Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Out July 16.

Walt Disney Pictures.

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