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Beginner’s charm

OUT NOW! More of B-side than A, ANT-MAN is fun in a superhero genesis film kind of way.

This thrifty little effort from Marvel studios (if you can call $130M films such things) sees enduring comedic favorite Paul Rudd elevated to the franchise big leagues as Scott Lang, a modern day Robin Hood for the 99% who inherits a suit with the power to shrink him down to the size of an ant.

We meet Scott in a weary but plucky state. He’s just been released from prison for his latest stint, and plans to hit the straight and narrow in order to get regular visiting rights with his only child. A heavily branded job in Baskin Robbins goes sour so Scott finds himself dragged back down for one last gig – to break into the vault of one Dr. Hank Pym (brill Michael Douglas, having the time of his life), the super-suit’s original user and creator. However, as it turns out the job was merely an elaborate initiation, set up by Pym himself, to pass the torch onto him.

So Scott becomes the Ant-Man. A superhero with the ability to shrink to insect proportions as their strength proportionally increases. A separate piece of tech allows our hero to seemingly enslave legions of insects with some sort of ultrasonic waves (a cruel sort of relationship which fails to garner a single comment in the entirety of the film.) The possibilities for the spectacular that such a setup offers are clearly not lost on the director, the visual fireworks coming in a stunning 3D shrunk-down sequence when Scott uses the suit for the first time. A DJ’s vinyl becomes an assault course as towering Lego blocks fly through the air. But for a two hour film, you’re left feeling like there was room for much more.

As is usually the case with these genesis things, conflict plays second fiddle to hero origin stuff. Antagonists generally coming in the form of shady megalomaniacs who use technology similar to the hero’s for evil stuff (largely selling it to even shadier looking arms dealers). Enter unstable goat-massacring Pym employee Darren Cross (played by reliably shady Corey Stoll).

Directing one of these things allows for about as much independent thinking as doing an episode of Tatort, but director Peyton Reed does manage to break that studio wall down with two great set piece gags for Michael Péna (the film’s surprise star). Perhaps Edgar Wright’s brash signature strokes were the reason he left the project last year; I guess we’ll never know.

All in all Ant-Man feels like a B-side of sorts to this year’s Age of Ultron (as Guardians of the Galaxy might have been to Winter Soldier last year) and as genesis stories go, it’s about as introductory as they come. Still there are plenty of laughs to be had from the scaled down action sequences and it boasts perhaps the finest of the non-Avengers Marvel film casts. The converted won’t leave disappointed but this won’t win Marvel many new fans.

Ant-Man | Directed by Peyton Reed (USA, 2015) with Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly. Starts July 23