ANT-MAN Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?

EVERY YEAR around this time, ants invade my kitchen. So while I'm generally in favor of a superhero who controls ants, I'd be happier if he just murdered them. But I don't run the Marvel Universe—Marvel does. And if they think it's a good idea to devote an entire movie to a shrinking hero who orders around ants? I'll assume they know best. And this time, they do.

The ceaselessly charming Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang—a former thief trying to go straight. However, after being tricked into stealing a super-powered outfit from brilliant scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), he's convinced to don the suit, become Ant-Man, and defeat a villain who's stolen the shrinking technology.

As you can tell from that recap, Ant-Man is a tiny story for a tiny hero—as opposed to the Avengers franchise, which is increasingly crammed with god-like characters and dangerous global situations. Perhaps sensing their audience was growing weary and overwhelmed with Marvel's ever-expanding universe, the creators realized it was time for a smaller, character-driven film... and Ant-Man fits the bill. Rudd may not be anyone's definition of a hero, but he's great at playing characters the audience can root for. And with Douglas supplying the dramatic backbone, along with a strong comedic supporting cast, Ant-Man has provided Marvel with something they haven't really pulled off since the first Iron Man—a story you actually care about.

While the first and second acts aren't as engaging as I'd like, and the female characters are woefully underdeveloped (surprise!), when the final blockbuster battle materializes (in miniature) Ant-Man turns into a smart, knowing parody of all the overblown superheroics that have preceded it. It's a display of self-awareness from Marvel that frankly, after all this time, is a relief. (But maybe in the sequel, Ant-Man can just kill ants. I really hate those guys.)