“I want you to break into a place and steal some shit.”
After some well-documented behind-the-scenes drama and well over a decade in development, Ant-Man is finally upon us, with Peyton Reed filling the large and quirky shoes of Edgar Wright, who died tragically before filming began… At least, I think that’s what happened, right?
The suit with the power to shrink a man down to the size of a bug is a precious technology that could change warfare forever; it is a secret that genius scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has tried to keep hidden from the world. Unfortunately, his research is being replicated by the devilish Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), and so, in an effort to keep this black science out of the wrong hands, Pym and his partner (Evangeline Lilly) decide to recruit cat burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to kick some butt and save the day, while also engaging in comic hijinks and character-based drama.
The results play out like a combination of 2008’s Iron Man and 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, with heartwarming moments and zany comedy taking turns elevating each other, with occasional bursts of action and excitement. Unlike Age of Ultron and nearly every other entry in Marvel’s universe, Ant-Man doesn’t destroy entire cities and bombard us with superfluous CGI spectacle, a pitfall even Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier fell into at times. While there are a couple of spectacularly large explosions here and there, the most exciting battles are set in such unusual locales as the inside of a briefcase and on a toy train set.
This new hero’s more unique power allows for a more varied approach to the action, and these fresh visuals overcome the sameness factor that hurt Age of Ultron‘s comparable sequences. Lots of the effects bring to mind a 1950’s B-movie; from the design of the Ant-Man suit to the way it shrinks and reverts back to normal size, to the laser-beam effect of the Cross’s shrink-ray experiments, the visual style is remarkable, if perhaps a bit too cartoon-ish for some.
Paul Rudd is generally regarded as the cutest thing on two legs (even if he’s a little forehead-y), but his Scott Lang is written too thinly to carry a whole film. He’s a charismatic figure, in and out of the suit, but he lacks the arc of a Tony Stark or a Thor. He is the first true every-man hero in the Marvel universe; he’s just a guy struggling to stay current on his child support payments. Fortunately, the supporting cast are there to pick up the slack; while Hank Pym’s hot-headed nature is never picked up in a meaningful way, his relationship with Evangeline Lily’s Hope Van Dyne comprises the main arc of the film. Michael Peña, one of the greatest actors working today, makes the most of his role as Lang’s buddy/lieutenant and just about steals the whole movie, which is par for the course for Peña. As usual in a Marvel flick, the villain gets the short end of the stick. For Stoll’s Cross, however, it’s not because he’s uninteresting, it’s just that he’s such a complex, terrifying, and serious character, he would be better served in an Iron Man film than here. The tone is just too light for his style of villainy… Basically, Corey Stoll is just damn scary, and despite being under-served in this film, his sheer menace really elevates the proceedings.
Ant-Man is a wild, entertaining, and visually different ride with fun and interesting characters. It feels like an extended spin-off episode about a man unrelated to Marvel’s universe who winds up getting dragged into events larger than himself and is forced to discover his own heroic potential.
…Or, if you’d like, it’s about an ex-con who can’t hold a job because of his criminal record who gets stuck with the only job available to him: superheroic thieving.