Comic book/film obsessives will know Ant-Man is a film with a very long gestation period, going back to a pitch by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and Joe Cornish in 2003. For fans of Wright and Marvel, this project was an unfathomable level of excitement, and until the two parted ways in May of last year, this was my most anticipated film of Marvel’s “Phase 2.” Because it happened so late in the film’s development cycle, Wright’s stamp shows up a few places. And while Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Yes Man) does an admirable job directing, the imagination still wonders what a completed project by Edgar Wright would have looked like.
A leaner film than any Marvel entry since the first Thor, Ant-Man follows the original inventor of the Ant-Man technology, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and his quest to retrieve his technology from the hands of his former protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). The clock is ticking as Cross has started to shop around the shrinking technology to both SHIELD and Hydra. To aid him, he recruits criminal (with a heart of gold) Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Michael Douglas is one of the best aspects of the film; the characterization of Hank Pym is certainly a new flavor of hero, bitter yet determined, and never strays into the crotchety stereotype.
The other main plot thread is Scott trying to navigate life as a man fresh out of prison, and the struggle between leaving behind his “burgling” in order to be a better father to his daughter, as well as be on good terms with her mom (Judy Greer). Both of these storylines are far more grounded in the lives of “regular people” than anything Marvel has put out in the last three years, and it is a good reminder of how fun seeing normal people interact with the fantastic can be. Most of this is rooted in Paul Rudd’s performance. He excels at playing an affable guy whose happy life seems just beyond his reach, and Scott Lang has a warmth and humanness unique within the MCU. It’s the perfect sense of how lowered stakes actually feel more real to the audience. Although there is a “save the world” level threat, the film only leans on it as a ticking clock, and it doesn’t need it.
The tone and plot construction feel a bit disjointed at times, but it’s a few small bumps in exchange for a film that is quietly ambitious. The most impressive thing about Ant-Man is how smoothly it integrates with the larger universe without derailing the narrative of the film itself. While there are several major connections to other films in the franchise, none of those connections are there to build out anything not directly related to the story in Ant-Man. Being able to simply leverage parts of the universe allows Ant-Man to be the only Marvel film (other than the first Avengers film) to gain momentum by connecting to the larger universe.
While Corey Stoll does a fine job in portraying the villainous Cross, it is simply a slightly improved version of Jeff Bridges, Sam Rockwell, and Guy Pearce’s characters in the Iron Man films. Unfortunate that villains continue to be Marvel’s biggest weak spot, but the focus on the characters of Pym and Lang more than makes up for it. The supporting cast also shines, and civilian characters are a nice change of pace from an abundance of superpowered heroes. Of them, Michael Peña is certainly the standout, adding a bent of goofy humor to the trademark Marvel style.
For those skeptical as to why Ant-Man deserves his own film, the action sequences are the answer. Besides the film marrying its odd tone to an odd character (a dude that shrinks and communicates with ants), the film uses the hero’s abilities in interesting ways that are not immediately obvious, at least to those in the audience who are not ant experts. The whole film benefits from this creative energy and sense of newness. The microphotography used is another subtle way that the form and story needs of the film are closely tied together.
Ant-Man is yet another trick in Marvel’s repertoire, both broadening and deepening the scope of the universe.
Note: There is both a mid-credits and a post-credit scene. So stay until they ask you to leave!
Ant-Man opens today in Philly area theaters.
Author: Ryan Silberstein
Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights
as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.