Heroes don’t get any bigger.
Contrary to popular belief, size does not matter! Over the past seven years producer Kevin Feige and the guys over at Marvel Studios have populated their universe with a plethora of larger-than-life characters and colossal action set pieces, so it comes as a pleasant surprise to report that their latest feature Ant-Man — a film about a tiny hero with the ability to control ants — is the studio’s most accessible and refreshingly simple flick to date, thanks to its smaller scale, a great sense of humor and a relatable hero. Getting right into the nitty-gritty, it’s hard to imagine what Ant-Man ‘might have been’ had hit cult filmmaker Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), remained onboard and directed the screenplay that he co-wrote with Joe Cornish, Attack the Block (2011), as was originally intended. Would the film have been more irreverent, eccentric and a little less Marvel? One can only speculate. Alas, Paul Rudd, Role Models (2008), and Adam McKay, Step Brothers (2008), eventually re-worked the script, no doubt adding their own style of banter to the mix, whereas director Wright was replaced by Peyton Reed, Bring It On (2000), who neatly accommodates the cast’s comic styles and adheres to the guidelines currently set out within the Marvel formula.
After suffocating their fans with the sensory overload that was Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), the small scale of Ant-Man almost feels fresh and perfectly timed. The flick deals with human issues and is fundamentally an earth-bound adventure, a nice change of pace for the typically ‘busy’ studio. Given its self-contained story, that’s effective with or without prior Marvel knowledge, Ant-Man is essentially a quirky heist film that also delves into the ‘wee’ science fiction subgenre of human shrinkage in the spirit of Innerspace (1987) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989). Ant-Man tells the story of master thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), an ex-crook who’s struggling, money wise, yet working tirelessly to be a better father for his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). Within the flick’s heavily expository first hour or so, viewers meet Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) — who fans might recognize as the original Ant-Man and the guy who created Ultron in the comic book canon — the man behind a revolutionary discovery known as the Pym Particle.
Subsequent to being kicked out of his own company by former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) — a greedy CEO hell bent on weaponizing Pym’s technology — Hank sets his eye on the down-and-out Lang who is reluctantly forced to return to a life of crime in order to show his ex-wife Gale (Judy Greer), and her new beau Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), that he has become somewhat financially independent. Upon discovering a tight-fitting dark red and black suit — that allows its user to alter their size and strength — Scott crosses paths with Pym, and together the pair plan to pull off an incredibly difficult heist that could ultimately save the world from a notorious baddie who goes by the guise of Yellowjacket.
In the grand scheme of all things Marvel, Ant-Man — the next piece of the Marvel-verse puzzle — feels extremely personalized and rather local with the majority of the action taking place within crammed indoor quarters such as banal households or science labs, unveiling the minuscule worlds amid bathroom tile work and in-between bank vaults. Using miniaturization to its advantage, the film skilfully showcases some truly inspired visuals that serve the story and are very much rooted in reality, images that depict the mundane from a radically different perspective, in turn, making familiar places feel anew. There’s an innovative face-off on a child’s train set that springs Thomas the Tank Engine back into action, an eye-popping sequence which starts inside a bathtub then moves to a rave party, and a clever montage that sees Ant-Man charge into battle alongside an army of ants through a series of water pipes. Truth be told, a scene where Ant-Man shrinks past the point of no return stands as the studio’s most daringly psychedelic moments to date.
Similarly the script is awfully straightforward and clear given its interlacing pre-existing lineage with a lot of the comedy working in its favor, particularly scenes involving Soctt’s motor-mouth prison buddy Luis (Michael Peña) and their cohorts, Dave (Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris), Kurt (David Dastmalchian) and Gale (Wood Harris), each bringing something unique to the table. While Lang’s criminal comrades aid the narrative, they mainly serve as comic relief with Michael Peña, End of Watch (2012), stealing the majority of his scenes whilst flaunting his impeccable comic timing, comedic energy and refreshing blend of humor. The melodramatic father-daughter stuff doesn’t fare up quite as well as the action and comedy with the tension between Pym and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) — who is working for the enemy but ends up helping her father thwart Cross’ diabolical plans — coming across as overwritten and clunky. Former Lost (2004) actress Evangeline Lilly does well with her one-note lackluster part but hopefully she’ll have a little more to do next time around, fingers crossed.
Interestingly enough, the film’s central conflict doesn’t actually involve Scott or Ant-Man, instead it focuses more on Dr. Pym and his adversary, the aptly named Cross, who’s played with gusto by an excellent Corey Stoll, The Bourne Legacy (2012). Even with Stoll’s first-rate expose of Darren Cross, the villain ‘Yellowjacket’ still suffers from the usual uninspired and conventional antagonist formula that’s synonymous with most other Marvel offerings, failing to sell the idea of a miniature soldier to the masses — while his motives and such are fairly clear, they’re all a little silly and far fetched if you ask me! Audiences are also tossed a number needless Marvel tie-ins and clumsy connections, with the film shoehorning itself into the Avenger’s world whilst laying groundwork for what’s to come by means of a few unneeded deviations — that’s including the two utterly redundant post credit scenes.
The linchpin of the picture’s success is in the impeccable casting of Paul Rudd, Role Models (2008), and Michael Douglas, The Game (1997). Rudd is a naturally likeable guy, who portrays our hero Scott Lang with a simple humanity and charisma, possessing a charm that most will no doubt be able to relate to in some way or another. In addition, Rudd responds to the crazy world in which he’s thrust with such natural skepticism that viewers will also buy into his plight. Likewise, Michael Douglas shines as the has-been scientist Dr. Hank Pym, portraying the character with an amusing friskiness that’s perfectly in sync with the picture’s bouncy essence; furthermore veteran Douglas adds that much-needed gravity to heighten tension. Although Edgar Wright’s stamp is evident throughout elements of the film, director Peyton Reed leaves his own mark on the project too, with the final product coming across as a cohesive collaboration between filmmakers, actors and a studio determined to make singular films that fit into their ever-expanding Cinematic Universe.
If Ant-Man proves anything, it’s that sometimes less is really more! Never quite reaching the heights of 2014’s sleeper hit, Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s newest feature Ant-Man — the concluding picture of Marvel’s Phase Two — is a better than average sci-fi caper that works as a pleasurable self-contained outing yet fits neatly into the studio’s already established world. With its brisk thrills, inventive action and laugh-out-loud comedy, Ant-Man is fun for all sizes and makes for an entertaining time at the movies, one that shows us that good things often come in small packages.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Ant-Man is released through Marvel Studios