For those who don't spend much time in the comic-book universe, the release of "Ant-Man" might suggest that Marvel is finally scraping the bottom of its barrel. Has it really come to this -- a small superhero who can lift stuff?
As it happens, "Ant-Man" possesses one of the greatest superpowers in cinema: a sense of humor. True, its story line is a muddle and its characters slightly thin, but so what? With the preternaturally likable Paul Rudd in the title role and a generally breezy, hey-it's-just-a-movie attitude, "Ant-Man" is impervious to any nitpicking. It's good summer fun and, as a bonus to parents, it's Marvel's most kid-friendly movie yet.
Rudd plays Scott Lang, a thief with a heart: He went to prison for hacking into a corrupt financial firm and returning the money to citizens. Now he's out, and trying to stay straight so he can visit his little daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson). Her mom and stepdad (Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale) are right not to trust Scott: Within days he's cracking another safe.
Surprise: All he finds inside is an old, weird (and very cool-looking) superhero suit. Here is where the script -- written partly by Rudd and his "Anchorman" collaborator Adam McKay -- loses focus, but it's also where the fun begins. The original Ant-Man, Dr. Hank Pym (a classy Michael Douglas), wants Scott to wear the suit while his own daughter (Evangeline Lilly) gains the trust of a ruthless industrialist (Corey Stoll), who has developed a competing suit, the Yellowjacket. Don't think about it too hard. Just enjoy the extended training montage, in which Scott learns to shrink at will, communicate with real ants and grapple with now-humongous vacuum cleaners, sewer rats and human feet.
Director Peyton Reed ("Bring It On") has great fun executing miniature action sequences that poke fun at the overblown Marvel style. In one, a tabletop model of a city is magnificently destroyed; another involves a Thomas the Tank Engine train-set. Michael Pena, as Scott's chatty best friend, provides some of the film's funniest moments. All in all, "Ant-Man" is a bigger treat than you might expect.