Marvel has been on a massive winning streak since they went into the business of making their own film franchises instead of farming their comic book characters out to studios like Fox and Sony. While laying a foundation for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America film franchises, they have also expanded the scope of their films to two massive Avengers movies and even branched out beyond the planet into sci-fi/fantasy with the Guardians of the Galaxy (and the Thor films). With each subsequent film the stakes and magnitude has seemingly grown as well, culminating in the climax of Avengers: Age of Ultron with a mass extinction threat. Given that Marvel is planning more franchises in addition to their already established characters, you can’t have every film be about a global-level threat. Ant-Man is a necessary corrective to the trajectory of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, telling a superhero story on a smaller scale, actually shaping it as best it can into a heist film, while still maintaining a necessary level of stakes involved so that the story still has some significance to the greater MCU.
Paul Rudd is Scott Lang, a recently paroled cat burglar who is determined to live a straight life because of his daughter. Maintaining a job as an ex-con turns out to be harder than he thought (Baskin-Robbins always finds out), and soon he is lured back into pulling off a heist by his friend, Luis (Michael Pena), who has a great lead on a big score. Turns out the score isn’t what he thought (a unique suit that allows the person wearing it to shrink but grow stronger) and the lead was actually planted by the owner of the house, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a former physicist for S.H.I.E.L.D. and CEO of his own company who has kept the suit’s technology secret for years, saying it’s just a myth. Pym’s protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), now runs the company and is close to having a breakthrough that will allow him to replicate the suit and sell it to the military, changing warfare and technology as we know it, Hank’s worst nightmare. Hank, along with his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), want to enlist Scott’s help by breaking into the Pym facility and destroy the research that Cross has done as well as the Yellowjacket suit that is in there with the help of the ants that he is able to control as part of the suit’s technology (surprisingly not as silly on-screen as it sounds).
There were a lot of ways that this film could go wrong. There are several writing credits attached to the script (Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, and Paul Rudd), something that could always result in a compromised and disappointing end product. There were also several directors attached to the project, including Wright, before he left due to creative differences and Peyton Reed came on to direct. Despite the many people involved, there is no “too many cooks” feel to the film. The inclusion of Wright, McKay, and Rudd at various points of the script process added a hearty dose of humor and levity to the film, which helps Rudd’s transition from an actor who has done mostly comedies for the last decade into someone who is believable in this action movie.
While it is an enjoyable film, it is not without its flaws. While there are plenty of moments of humor, some of them are excessive, in particular when Scott interrupts an important father-daughter conversation between Hank and Hope about her mother and then proceeds to comment on how he ruined the moment. The film also lacks a compelling villain, even though Corey Stoll is a good actor and does the best with the material. He falls into the Jeff Bridges in Iron Man category of being a somewhat bland corporate villain. And of course HYDRA shows up to make their presence known as well, another subplot that is wearing a bit thin in the MCU. Overall those, these flaws aren’t enough to really detract from the enjoyment of the movie.
Ant-Man drops us into a story that partly jettisons the origin aspects of the story to a certain degree. The Ant-Man suit already exists and has been in use by Pym, the origin story is really about Rudd becoming the man in the suit, kind of similar to the Antonio Banderas Zorro movie with Anthony Hopkins. The suit allows the wearer to shrink in size, grow in strength, and control insects through a transmitter. Tension exists within the group as Hope, who shows an aptitude for the suit and its abilities, presses her father to let her be the one to do the job and that they are wasting valuable time by training Scott. Hank is reluctant to allow her to do so for reasons that tie back to her mother. Lilly is really good as Hope, someone who has put up a tough exterior as a defense mechanism, the type of character trait she has shown herself to be very capable at dating back to Lost. The film hints at her taking on the Wasp in subsequent films, and that could be promising. The action overall in the film is really impressive, the ending in particular features a lot of things growing and shrinking in size unexpectedly for good action and a few belly laughs.
Michael Douglass gets to have a lot of fun in his role as Hank Pym, giving a certain level of credibility to the film similar to Robert Redford in Captain America: Winter Soldier. Michael Pena is another standout of the cast, even if his role is mostly as comedic relief. Judy Greer and Bobby Canavale have smaller roles too, playing Scott’s ex-wife Maggie and her cop boyfriend Paxton, respectively. Abby Ryder Fortson plays Cassie, Scott’s daughter, and their relationship, along with the father-daughter relationship between Hank and Hope, is the real heart of the film.
Ant-Man smartly steps back from the previous Marvel films that have upped the ante and makes a film that feels like the proper fit for its protagonist. Credit to them for being able to show a level of dexterity and adaptability in their filmmaking to craft a movie for their character and mold it into a heist film. While I am torn about the “superhero heist movie” and find myself asking “Why can’t we just have the same writers make a heist movie?” I still have not reached a saturation point with superhero movies, even though I fear it is coming in the next few years. But Ant-Man checks off enough boxes to satisfy comic book fans and entertain general movie-going audiences thanks to the appeal of Paul Rudd in the lead role and the lighter tone of the film overall.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars