I think one of the best things about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is how it takes its characters and makes the films surrounding them feel thematically and tonally similar. For instance, in Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, it was the first time we had ever seen all of the Avengers together on the big screen, and so the movie itself felt like an introductory blast of summer movie fun as we got used to seeing the superheroes meeting each other as they did on screen.
But another way these movies feel like their central character(s) is by the size of the scope. Iron Man was a movie about a wealthy business man who got kidnapped by terrorists and had to build an iron suit to get out alive. This created Iron Man. And so that story didn’t need to reach to interplanetary heights to unwind, so the movie didn’t either. It stayed grounded, and because of that, it really worked. Contrary to the low earthiness of Iron Man, the Thor movies took us to a completely different galaxy (and in The Dark World, we even got inter-dimensional travel). Similarly, Guardians of the Galaxy kicked off on earth and then transported us to the far reaches of space.
In the vein of Iron Man comes Ant-Man, a movie so distinct from the rest of the MCU’s tone that you might find it hard to believe that you’re not watching a Paul Rudd led heist comedy. Actually, wait. That’s is what you’re watching. This is heist movie disguised as a superhero movie, just as The Winter Soldier was a spy thriller disguised as a superhero movie. It’s tiny in comparison to the rest of the MCU, and appropriately so. And despite a terribly wooden and convoluted plot, this a movie that delivers just enough fun action and gut busting humor to satisfy even the most skeptical.
The film begins in 1989 by introducing us to Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), creator of some special kind of shrinking serum that Howard Stark and the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. wants to get their hands on. (I’m just going to assume that you know who Stark is and I don’t have to explain who any of these characters are at this point.) The agency has replicated this serum, which comes as a shock to Hank and causes him to become outraged. Once Dr. Pym makes it clear that he doesn’t want his un-perfected serum to get into anyone else’s hands, he disappears from Stark and hides it away in his basement.
Fast forward to the present day and we meet Darren Cross (House of Cards’ Cory Stoll), the new head of Pym Technologies, forcing Hank himself out of his own company. Cross’ intentions are not only world-altering, but they may just be sinister without his knowing. He’s taken an interest in the serum and has begun his own set of trials and tests by announcing the Yellowjacket. It’s an experimental suit that can shrink its wearer to the size of an insect at the press of a button.
The only problem is, Hank got there first, and he has the original suit locked away in his basement. And it isn’t by chance that word about a big score in a safe in some old guy’s basement has made its way to Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and his group of criminal buddies. Lang has just been released from the penitentiary for breaking and entering, among other charges (but they don’t include violence, and the movie wants you to know that).
So, when Scott gets word of this potential heist that just may give him the means to provide for his daughter, he takes it as a kind of one-last-ride adventure. He breaks in and finds nothing more than the suit. But as we know, this isn’t a normal suit. After taking the suit, he realizes that it allows him to shrink down to the size of an insect, and as Hank Pym tells him later in the movie, it also gives him superhuman strength.
If that makes you weary because it’s so far fetched and silly, don’t fret. Ant-Man doesn’t conform to the typical Hollywood norm of making us try and feel that this kind of thing is normal or doesn’t come with a laugh. This movie, on more than one occasions, verbally laughs at itself, sometimes having characters make tongue-in-cheek jokes regarding the silliness of the character’s strengths and sometimes the convolution of the plotline.
Still, it doesn’t necessarily excuse the movie’s thin plotline, which doesn’t offer a lot in terms of depth and originality (apart from the little ant-like man running around and flying winged insects). Then again, I’m not entirely sure the movie requires depth and a layered plotline, but the main issue that doesn’t seem to stop is how been-there-done-that the events of the acts feel. We meet a lowly man who has problems. He discovers a way out that just so happens to involve becoming a superhero. He trains. He keeps training. He trains a lot. And finally, he puts on his costume and fights the bad guy.
That’s what we get with Ant-Man, as Hank Pym finally meets with Scott Lang and discusses why he needs to put on the suit. In a spectacular bit of dialogue, Hank asks Scott if he’s ready to be a hero. Scott says yes. “My days of breaking into places and stealing shit are over. So what do you want me to do?” To which Hank says, “I want you to break into a place and steal some shit.” And he ain’t kidding. He needs Scott to break into a certain place which I will not spoil because the surprise of it is enough to make it worth the price of admission alone. And while Scott trains to become the Ant-Man, we see juxtaposing shots of his training and Cross’ experiments with live subjects. That bastard.
Even though it unfolds in typical superhero movie fashion and nothing really surprising happens in terms of storytelling, Ant-Man is loaded with fun action pieces, hilarious dialogue, and a weird and bizarrely exhilarating third act. The final twenty minutes of this movie are much of what you see in the trailer, including that clever train fight sequence as well as a few nice little touches that you may not see coming. Either way, it’s a blast, and it’s up there with Iron Man 3 and The Avengers for best third act fight sequence in the MCU.
Up until then, the movie gives us quite a bit of stuff to digest, even if its light and fluffy and not entirely meaningful except for during the running time. It’s fun to see Scott training; one sequence involves him trying to shrink and jump through a keyhole and then reforming into normal size directly after which is played for comedic effect. Also, it’s quite funny without the Ant-Man stuff as well as we are introduced to Scott’s gang of hoodlums, consisting of Luis (Michael Pena), Dave (T.I.), and Kurt (David Dastmalchian, who you may remember from a little movie called The Dark Knight). These guys, complete with the screenplay, are really funny to watch, specifically Michael Pena, who provides much of the film’s comedy.
But not only is Scott’s gang funny. The script in general is funny, although I’m not going to jump out and say that it’s Marvel’s funniest film thus far (Guardians has that sealed). There are moments in the early parts of the film that feel like Edgar Wright’s hand (“Baskin Robbins always finds out”), but it’s really difficult to tell just where Wright’s hand is and where it isn’t. It is a shame that we didn’t get to see his cut of the film (you’ll know that he dropped out of directing the project due to creative differences), but we get Peyton Reed’s cut, and it really isn’t bad at all.
It’s not always on point, some humor doesn’t hit, and some of the special effects look like an early 2000s creature feature, but still, for the most part, this doesn’t feel as confused and jumbled as I feared it would given the change in direction.
As the titular character (at least in the modern setting), Paul Rudd is good, so if you feared him being too goofy or too un-superhero-y, put those aside. He is goofy, but it works for the film and it only takes a few minutes of seeing him as Scott to get you to welcome him with open arms to this series of movies. And as Michael Douglas, Hank Pym does a great job… oh wait. Sorry. As Hank Pym, Michael Douglas does a great job. Seeing greats like Michael Douglas and Robert Redford in these Marvel superhero movies is something I never dreamed I’d see, so to say it’s a dream come true is an understatement.
Let’s talk about Hope Pym, who is played by The Hobbit’s Evangeline Lilly. In this film, she is Hank’s daughter, working alongside Cross and gaining his trust while secretly bringing his plans to Hank. Her loyalty is never questioned, and it’s something I admired about the film in that it never went into the clichéd she-was-really-behind-it-all-the-whole-time predictability-fest. As Hope, Lilly is… okay? She isn’t great, as sometimes a scene would require her to cry with Michael Douglas and it just felt off and laughable (luckily, the script allowed Rudd to intrude on the conversation with a witty remark). Still, she’s not bad, and the mid-credits scene opens up the possibility (certainty) that her story/character is going somewhere.
Ant-Man is a small film, which is a breath of fresh air in a shared universe of films that thrive on bigness and enormity. You need to see the other movies to see this (it ties into Age of Ultron and the Winter Soldier in an interesting way which I found to be great), but on its own, Ant-Man is a movie that fans will want to see again and again. Then again, that’s the case with all of them. As a fan of this franchise, I haven’t not liked one of these movies (even the lowly slobs like Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk have their charming moments), and even though Ant-Man isn’t at the top of the list in terms of quality, it’s still loads of summer movie fun that doesn’t disappoint.
1 hr. 55 mins.
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Michael Douglas
Written by Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish and Adam McKay & Paul Rudd
Directed by Peyton Reed