In the midst of “The Avengers” and the countless other successful films that Marvel Studios has turned into the mega-franchise of the last decade, “Ant-Man” has never felt like a priority. It has taken the studio ages to figure out how Ant-Man, who originated as a founding member of the Avengers in the comics, would fit into their multi-billion dollar machine, and now that they slipped him in, he just might be the most interesting weapon in their arsenal.
Although this is the first “Ant-Man,” the film feels far from an origin story, partly in the clever way that the story involves two “ant-men,” Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Marvel movie fans are asked to believe Pym was merely an unmentioned part of S.H.I.E.L.D. for decades, but regardless, Pym hand-picking and training his successor is a new dynamic for a superhero film.
Lang is a burglar with a background in electronic engineering, and unlike his major Avengers contemporaries, he’s a family man too, albeit his daughter lives with his ex-wife. Fresh out of prison for stealing millions from a crooked organization, Lang gets pulled into a new job by his buddy Luis (Michael Peña), which leads him to Pym and the Ant-Man suit. Pym is in need of someone with Lang’s skills to infiltrate his former company, now run by his ruthless former protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who is on the verge of a breakthrough in his attempts to replicate Pym’s shrinking technology.
If “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was Marvel Studios’ take on a spy movie, then “Ant- Man” is its heist film. Although the break-in to destroy Cross’ data and yellow jacket suit isn’t the sole focus of the movie, it’s the highlight in a film that ends up being way more fun than even the most optimistic Marvel fan would’ve imagined.
“Ant-Man” has two tricks up its sleeve that prevent it from basically being an “Iron Man” knock- off: a hero who can change his size instantly and a loyal army of ants. The size factor creates infinite creative action sequence possibilities, which is nothing to brush off considering how many times audiences have seen a man in a suit fighting bad guys in the last 20 years. The ant factor is also easy to underestimate, but they add such unique flavor to movie and are integral to the plot.
No fan would ask for Marvel to pick the director of “Bring It On” to bring Ant-Man to life, especially when that man (Peyton Reed) was stepping in for geek-revered auteur Edgar Wright, but it’s clear by how clever “Ant-Man” is that Wright’s story and screenplay work were still influential. With a screenplay from Wright and Joe Cornish revised by Rudd and modern comedy writer/director Adam McKay (“Anchorman”), it’s amazing that “Ant-Man” is a cohesive, exciting action film that’s also funny, rather than just ending up plain silly.
There is a definite limit to the praise that can be heaped onto “Ant-Man,” particularly as it relates to its conventional plot and a few bland characters, but it absolute hits the mark on the entertainment factor in a way no Marvel film has since the original “Avengers” (outside of “Guardians of the Galaxy”). The humor definitely helps, and one prime example of its keen use is when Lang asks Pym why he doesn’t just get the Avengers to do the job. That little bit of self- awareness is good for the tone and rewarding to fans of Marvel films. A scene in which Ant-Man takes on one of the Avengers, though superfluous for the film, is a delightful bridge to the greater universe and serves to put more points in the entertainment column. The tie-ins don’t hinder the film as much as you might expect; Marvel Studios definitely strikes a balance between the ingenuity of Wright’s original concept for this movie and its overbearing necessity to be part of a “phase” of superhero films with bigger objectives.
Ant-Man is a welcome member to the Marvel movie family and he might just even steal some votes as a fan favorite Avenger over time. It’s too bad Marvel doesn’t plan to let him fly solo again between now and the final two-part “Avengers: Infinity War” in 2018-19, but hopefully the reaction to this first installment will change their minds, or maybe they’ve got bigger plans for their tiniest hero than we realize.
Directed by Peyton Reed
Written by Adam McKay and Paul Rudd, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll