There’s been a noticeable habit among superhero movies, as of late, to aim bigger and bigger in scale. Some properties naturally lend themselves to the enormous blockbuster approach while others are a little to overwhelming for their own good.
It’s therefore interesting that Marvel is following up Age of Ultron — one of those latter movies I mentioned — with Ant-Man. Like a true David and Goliath scenario, Marvel’s smallest hero shows the big dogs how it’s done, delivering a movie that uses its scope to its advantage in delivering a well-balanced heist comedy that’s one of Marvel’s most fun films in years — even if it is more than a little familiar.
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) can’t hold a job or get permission to see his own daughter on account of being a convicted burglar. Desperate to catch a break, Scott goes through with the robbery of an anonymous millionaire’s safe.
Little does he know, said figure wants him to rob that safe. The man behind the curtain is Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), former S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist, expert in microphysics and originator of the Ant-Man identity. Pym reaches out to Scott to pull off a very special heist. With the help of Pym’s prickly daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), the trio must infiltrate Pym’s company to stop its new head, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), from utilizing Pym’s uncovered shrinking technology to create an army of miniaturized assassins.
To do this, Scott must take up the mantle of Ant-Man and become the world’s smallest hero.
In a cine-scape of prolonged battles, multiple subplots, dozens of characters and endless tie-ins to other movies, Ant-Man is a superhero film that embraces refreshingly old-school principles that make it wholly accessible.
The film (previously to be helmed by Edgar Wright) is a mostly self-contained story that sticks to a core handful of characters, saves most of its action for the third act and keeps the core of the film between the characters, as opposed to the special effects. It’s because of these choices that the film is more genuine and embraceable than many other of its ilk.
In keeping things more focused, director Peyton Reed and crew can hone in on more of the colors that make the film unique. The best Marvel movies tend to be strong genre pics with a superhero twist; Ant-Man is the studio’s first foray into the heist genre and plays like Ocean’s meets Iron Man (that’s a compliment). The decision to have Ant-Man as a heist movie is damn near inspired, allowing Reed and the myriad of writers on the film to mix things up in fun ways, like combining the practice run montage on a heist film with the superpower discovery section of a superhero pic.
At the same time, the film mimics the general arc of such films and touts the power of buildup rather than sheer geek-gasm. Sounds strange for a modern superhero film, no? Well, it helps that the film is paced near perfectly, coming in at a brisk 1 hour, 57 minutes. Alongside films like Mad Max: Fury Road and Inside Out, it’s not a stretch to say that Ant-Man is one of the summer’s leanest offerings that uses its runtime to its advantage.
Being a Marvel film, there are naturally a lot of effects going on but not to the point of exhaustion. Ant-Man‘s shrinking abilities and his communication with ants is positively playful and acts more as a character beat than a studio-mandated effects shot. Reed and co. use just the right amount of restraint in the film until the end, letting us appreciate the effects more rather than getting spoiled by them.
In the meantime, the real strength of the film comes with the main three cast members. Rudd, Lily and Douglas all tap into the lightness of what the writers are going for but never phone it in, tackling the humor of the piece with charm and grace. This film may be more on the comedic side of the Marvel spectrum but serious kudos should be given the cast and creative team for making both the humor and the drama of the film genuine (the father/daughter themes in the film are beautiful), instead of having things come off as too cool for school… unlike certain other Marvel flicks.
That’s not to make it sound like everything about Ant-Man is shiny and new. Right off the bat the similarities between this hero and Marvel’s other super-powered suit-wielder are pretty clear. The benevolent suit-wearer up against the military industrial complex is Marvel’s shining cliche, but at very least they find a few new ways to go about it to keep things fun.
On the topic of Marvel cliches, let’s talk about how much their villains still suck! One day these guys will pick up the ball on their bad guys but Ant-Man isn’t the film to break the streak. Corey Stoll is a fine actor and gives it his best go here, but there’s only so much to do with the same cookie-cutter role the studio keeps carving out for their antagonists. Unfortunately, Yellowjacket is a one-two punch of the studio giving the villain weak motivations, then having him possess the same powers as the hero.
Then there’s Luis.
Coming out of this film, I was elated to realize this was no where near as aggressively annoying as Guardians of the Galaxy… with this one character being the exception. Michael Pena is quite good in a great many things but here his presence is just, well, ants to my eyes and ears. At best, he’s a major annoyance that hampers the vibe of the movie; at worst, he’s an insulting stereotype of the Latino community that Marvel let get out of hand and would be better off distancing themselves from.
Even with weak villains, cliched plot points and a Hispanic Stepin Fetchit, it’s hard to dismiss the pure charm Ant-Man has going for it. With only limited ties to the greater Marvel universe, it’s oddly comforting going in knowing you can have a fun time contained just to this one film. And fun it is. With movies like this you can hear it in the score (excellent, by the way) and see it in the edits.
At just under two hours of two-for-one genre thrills, Ant-Man is the type of playful film that has the confidence in it’s own strengths to escape its trappings.