We may not need another hero, but true believers don't need to shrink-ray their expectations. Ant-Man is the first Marvel film -- and the first of this summer's pixels-go-kablooey time-wasters -- to get better as it goes. The filmmakers save their biggest, wiggiest ideas for the climaxes, where they wittily reduce the pageantry of destruction to HO scale: In one of many third-act dustups, our hero faces off against the latest Marvel tech-gone-wrong baddy on an architect's model of a building.
From there the action flits to even more humdrum locales, intimate of-our-world spaces. This freshens up the usual superheroics. No spoilers, here, about the half-dozen surprises the filmmakers uncork in the last half-hour, but isn't it a relief that once again there are marvels to spoil?
Ant-Man makes a virtue of drought-year scarcity. The movie favors story over set pieces, never even trying to dazzle us for a good 40 minutes -- and then heading back to hang out in a San Francisco Queen Anne owned by Ant-Man mentor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Not that said story demanded to be told, of course: This is familiar superhero origin and training stuff, spiced with heist-planning and the comedy of dumbfoundedness. As the goodhearted burglar who winds up with the powers to shrink himself and boss ants around, Paul Rudd spends the first hour looking like neither he nor his character, Scott Lang, can buy that a guy like him could possibly be a hero. Maybe in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the entire history of Hollywood is different?