Paul Rudd IS the Ant-Man in one of the better Marvel movies that make up the so-called "Cinematic Universe." (Disney/Marvel)

Paul Rudd IS the Ant-Man in one of the better Marvel movies that make up the so-called "Cinematic Universe." (Disney/Marvel)

Ant-Man is officially the 12th entry in Marvel Comics' so-called "Cinematic Universe," and -- no pun intended -- it's also the smallest, which is a very good thing following the all-hands-on-dreck Avengers: Age of Ultron that came out in May but feels like it was three forevers ago. It's the perfect palate-cleanser for even the truest believer worn down and worn out by the blockbustering of comic books -- a twee, cute-enough-for-kids adventure story about fathers and daughters and surrogate sons (so Marvel!) and, most important, how cool it is to get small.

Marvel hasn't made a movie this fun - this bright, this charming, this joyful -- since the first Iron Man, in which Robert Downey Jr.'s entitled smirk was its most lethal weapon. Ant-Man feels like the B-side of that first hit single, a lightweight trifle that's got a good beat you can dance to. Even John Slattery shows up as Tony Stark's long-dead dad Howard for the first time since Iron Man 2. Guardians of the Galaxy was a long-playing blast into outer space; Ant-Man's just a gas.

The first-ever appearance of the Ant-Man

The first-ever appearance of the Ant-Man

The Ant-Man's actually been a big player in the Marvel Universe since his first appearance in Tales to Astonish in 1962; in fact, he even co-founded the Avengers, for those wondering why a studio in charge of a gazillion-dollar franchise would stoop to consider the little man skittering across the carpet.

That Ant-Man was Hank Pym, played here by Michael Douglas as the grumpy old Ant-Man looking for a successor to keep his shrinking serum out of the hands of the brutish, broken acolyte (Corey Stoll, who makes everything he's in this much better) who pushed Hank out of his own company. Pym, who spends most of his time in an aging manse that looks like the one Douglas inhabited in Wonder Boys, finds just the man he needs behind bars: Scott Lang (the strangely ageless Rudd), a thief who does bad things for good reasons.

Lang has a master's degree in electrical engineering, which is just good enough to land him a job at Baskin-Robbins upon release from prison. He also has a daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson) falling under the sway of the could-be stepdad (Bobby Canavale) who's the cop aching to put Scott back behind bars. Hank, meanwhile, has his own issues with the daughter (Evangeline Lilly), who wants inside the suit Hank has convinced Scott to unknowingly steal from Hank (yes, that's right) during one of several wittily, beautifully constructed set pieces.

The movie, which feels like the most expensive movie Vincent Price never made, arrives in theaters dogged by years of false starts and the departure of a director (Edgar Wright) who's better than anyone else at making parodies that play better than the thing they're parodying. (Which would you rather watch again: Hot Fuzz or Bad Boys?) Rudd's now credited as a writer, alongside Wright, Attack the Block director Joe Cornish and Rudd's Anchorman director Adam McKay -- quite the hodgepodge of styles, but all awfully good at grin-making. A gag involving The Cure song "Disintegration" and a briefcase is but one of a handful of smart, subtle gags.

The unheralded Peyton Reed, who broke up Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Anniston in the painful-for-all-the-right-reasons The Break-Up and who was last seen making episodes of New Girl (!), directed. Like I say: small. But decidedly not small-time.

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