Ever since Marvel began producing films independently with their continually growing cinematic universe, along with some of their modestly known franchises such as Captain America and Iron Man, they’ve also began to introduce more obscure franchises such as last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s something of a risk that has no guarantee of paying off, but provides a welcome shake up to the usual formula.
And so we come to Ant-Man, which has actually been in development since the company’s early days as a movie studio in 2008. Originally intended to be directed by Edgar Wright, best known for kinetic cult comedies such as Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, it suffered from a few hiccups in production, including Wright himself exiting the project. The movie moved forward into production with new director Peyton Reed, and acts as the official conclusion of Marvel’s second phase of films (and unofficially the start of its third). While it may not pay off as well as Guardians of the Galaxy did, it is an incredibly fun shake up to Marvel’s ongoing film series.
Recently released from Prison, expert heist man Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) wants to make an honest living, but under the pressure of wanting to spend time with his daughter, is tempted back to do one more job. By chance, he ends up stealing from renowned particle scientist, and former miniature-soldier Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), taking his suit, and eventually learning that it allows him to shrink to the size of an ant and grow at will. Taking Scott in under his wing, Pym trains him and seeks his help in order to destroy a dangerous experiment constructed by Pym’s disdainful protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), a suit with Hank’s original programming codenamed Yellowjacket that he intends to mass produce for soldier usage, but could backfire in devastating ways should it end up in the wrong hands.
One notable thing about Marvel’s films up to this point is how they’ve woven other genres into the usual superhero vibes, whether it be the 70’s conspiracy thriller tone of the Winter Soldier, the old-fashioned adventure of Guardians, or the Shakespearean theatricality of the Thor films. Ant-Man in a similar fashion takes much influence from the heist genre. After taking lengthy, but necessary time to carefully establish exposition, the film near-consistently moves at full speed with a lot of fun to be had with its set ups and characters. Edgar Wright, despite stepping down as director, still retains screenwriting credit with Joe Cornish, and has some welcome assistance from Adam McKay and Paul Rudd himself, and while this does mean there are sections where the difference in creative voices becomes obvious, the fact that the two act in such cohesive harmony is something of a wonder.
The characters and the actors are particularly where the movie finds incredible life. With his charm and quick-witted humor put to good use, Paul Rudd approaches Scott Lang with an appropriate looseness, managing to be effortlessly naturalistic for key emotional segments, but also plays it with an equally necessary wink and a smile to the material. Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym is far and away one of the most standout characters in Marvel’s ongoing series thus far, using the actor’s presence to feel at once both warm and distant, and gives the material a welcome grace to it. We then have Evangeline Lilly joining in as Hank’s daughter Hope, who while not having as many moments to shine as her lead co-stars, still gives the film needed levity and gravity. Even small roles like David Dastmalchian as a hacker who aids Lang in heists get fantastic moments on screen, but it’s Michael Pena as Lang’s fast-talking and quirky friend Luis that winds up stealing the show, contributing all of the film’s biggest laughs anytime he’s on screen.
However, as a Marvel film, warts and all, the script still needs ironing out in several areas that do feel glanced over. The most obvious of these have been Marvel’s admittedly weak villains, and here is no exception. Corey Stoll gives the performance all that he can, and gives the scorned cynic more humanity in the flesh than it necessarily has on paper, and yet the character still feels simplified with purely money and power motivated actions, and in scenes where he tests his Yellowjacket experiments on animal subjects, it feels too B-Movie even for one such as this. However, that still doesn’t detract too much from the overall experience, and if fun is what you want, then the film delivers it in spades.
The film is at its most playful once it rolls around to the action sequences, with the filmmakers clearly having a lot of fun making such non-threatening environments such as air vents and hallways feel gargantuan in intimidating scale. Clearly an influence taken from Wright’s original idea books, the action scenes have an imaginative kinetic eye when it comes to visual splendor and skillful editing in which much of the movie’s most infectious fun seeps through, including one delightfully creative suitcase sequence. The effects work of the film is gorgeous, with various flight and shrinking sequences that immerse you into the colorful and expansive world, especially when coupled with stellar IMAX 3D. This inventiveness even works its way to the sound design with the various sounds of insects and life-size objects and people being amplified when placed in Scott’s shrunken down viewpoint.
It may not reach the same heights as Guardians of the Galaxy, but regardless of that minor fact, I was genuinely thrilled and tickled by Ant-Man from start to finish. An appropriately smaller scale project for the studio, it takes its heist influences to heart, thrives off of the ingenious spirit of its writers, and benefits from a committed and thoroughly charismatic cast. As Marvel finishes off what is hands down their best phase of films yet, one can only imagine the surprises that they have in store for their next slate of releases.
In fact, the film also features several smile-inducing callbacks to the larger Marvel universe, and even has a great, crucial reappearance by one of the Avengers that I dare not spoil. As always, be sure to stay until the very end of the credits for the now classic post credits clips.
**** / *****