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Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is out of prison and out of luck. An ex-con, he can’t find regular work. Without an income, he can’t provide child support for his former wife, Maggie (Judy Greer). And until Scott chips in, Maggie will not let him visit their incredibly cute daughter.

Scott is not just any common criminal. He has considerable fame as a modern-day Robin Hood who hacked from the rich and gave to the poor. His former cellmate—and current roommate—Luis (Michael Peña) is eager to have Scott join in on the burglary of a fancy house. Scott finally agrees, in the hope that the house’s safe will hold something to help pay for child support.

The safe is quickly cracked, only to reveal a suit that looks like something an astronaut might wear while riding a motorcycle on the moon. Curious, Scott tries on the suit, shrinks to the size of an ant, and must avoid drains, mice, high heels, and various hazards.  

Sufficiently freaked out by this harrowing experience, Scott returns the suit to the safe, only to be caught by the police. The suit’s owner, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), reveals himself and offers Scott the choice of either prison or a shot at redemption. In this case, redemption involves using his burglar’s skills and the suit to do good . . . as Ant-Man.

What follows is typical super-hero training, involving super-suit and martial arts mastery. But in a pleasant and comic twist to this classic “origins” narrative, Scott must also learn how to communicate with all species of ants so they can act as his essential allies.

Quite honestly, I went into the movie considering the unpleasant memory of an ant infestation in our back room years ago. Midway through the movie, I began to enjoy the ants for their marvelous strengths and abilities, at least in their computer-generated form.

Like Stuart Little, Gulliver’s Travels, The Secret World of Arrietty, and many other books and films,Ant-Man also plays into our strange fascination with seeing the world from a different and smaller scale.

Otherwise, the plot has very few surprises. There is a bald and buff villain, a competing super-suit, arms dealers, and an explosive grand finale.

Yet the overall tone of Ant-Man is nice. It is a pleasant change from bloated Marvel films such as this season’s Age of Ultron that involve multiple superheroes, various villains, and interplanetary locations.

Scott is a relatable character, an ordinary guy who makes bad choices out of a lack of focus. Also, Paul Rudd plays the role with a light touch and so offers a needed contrast to the smart-aleck irony of Robert Downey Jr.’s zillionaire in Iron Man. In that sense, the film is closer to the playful tone of Pixar’s The Incredibles.

Michael Douglas offers the necessary gravitas to play Dr. Pym. As his daughter Hope, Evangeline Lilly does her best with a limited role as an icy and angry corporate scientist, who begins to melt when she meets Scott.

As in Jurassic World, action and superhero films seem to have a hard time providing engaging female leads. But if you have the patience to stick to the end of the credits, know that two sequences offer hope for future Ant-Man (and Woman) films.

I should point out that Ant-Man does a better job than other Marvel films at casting several non-white actors. If you see Ant-Man as a group or a family, do discuss whether or not these roles go beyond the stereotypical (the Hispanic guy, the black guy, the guy with an accent) or the secondary (the sidekick).

In sum, the film isn’t everything it could be, especially if your taste runs toward an all-out summer blockbuster or a thoughtful, character-driven indie drama. But I found Ant-Man to be a welcome bit of comic relief for a warm summer evening.

Note: Rated PG-13. While not as violent as many action films, Ant-Man still has some scenes that could disturb children. (Marvel/Disney)

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