Overview: After ex-con Scott Lang steals a suit that allows him to shrink, he is hired by the suit’s creator, Hank Pym to prevent his life’s work from falling into the hands of those who seek to militarize his shrinking formula. Walt Disney Pictures; 2015; Rated PG-13; 117 minutes.
Marvel Premiere: Marvel Studios hasn’t made a solo hero origin story since 2011s Captain America: The First Avenger, and in that time audiences have realized that superhero movies don’t need to fall on the same tropes that defined the superhero movies of the 2000s. Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man manages to provide us with an origin story that subverts many of the classic origin story tropes and center the plot on a heist where the fate of the world takes a backseat to the personal stakes. While the technological focus and not-so-great guy turned hero may recall Iron Man, Reed’s film couldn’t be more different from that first foray into the MCU, in both good and not so good ways.
Where Marvel Studios always excels is in their casting, and Ant-Man is no different. Scott Lang is played in the typical bemused and wink-worthy Paul Rudd fashion. The script goes through lengths to highlight his regular guy-ness by giving him a worthy supporting cast of friends (Michael Pena owns this film), an ex-wife (a once-again underutilized Judy Greer), and an adorable young daughter. He may have a costume, but at the end of the day Scott’s a guy who can’t get a job and can’t afford to pay child-support. In a world of billionaires, alien gods, spies, and soldiers, there is something refreshing about that. As is the film’s father-daughter relationship focus, both between Scott and Cassie, and Hank and Hope Pym. Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly have a comfortable repertoire as the bickering Pyms who are both in search of honesty and forgiveness. Though Scott may be the titular Ant-Man, the film is almost as much Hope’s origin story as Scott’s. But for all the film’s solid casting, multi-character focus, genuine humor and thrills, Ant-Man can’t quite manage what most of the previous Marvel films have managed to do. While their respective films turned Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America from B-characters into A-characters, at least in the eyes of the masses, Ant-Man takes a B-character and reaffirms his B-levelness.
Ant Traps: Regardless of some great gags, both visual and dialogue-based, the middle of the film, pre-heist, drags at points. We spend a lot of time with Scott in training and while the visuals of him shrinking and communicating with the ants is impressive, it goes on too long. This, coupled with a subplot of Hank’s unwillingness to tell Hope what really happened to her mother, becomes trying at a point where the movie should still feel exciting. In its clever subversions of tropes, the film doesn’t always seem to know what to do with the time it saved from clichés, so it treads water and fills up the space with jokes that just miss their mark. And while none of these over-long scenes are outright bad, they do break up the flow of the film.
The first, and especially the third, act is where the film feels most confident with its momentum and comfortable with being goofy. When we get to the heist and Scott’s conflict with Darren Cross/Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll), the film delivers a fantastic array of action scenes that really take advantage of the fantasy-physics at play. Reed seems the most secure with these scenes, and they are vibrant, fast-paced, and blend humor in well. But when the action fades and Reed is left to the quieter moments of exposition, and living room set pieces, the direction feels static and dull, and these scenes are carried by the scripted jokes and line delivery. All the right elements are there, but they never find a way to organize themselves without the use of noticeable padding.
Honey, I blew up the MCU: Through its flaws and its strengths, everyone involved in Ant-Man absolutely puts in the work to make the film feel like an integral piece of the MCU. While some have been quick to say that Ant-Man is a smaller scaled film, that isn’t really true. There’s just as many references and sequel set-up as any Marvel movie post-2008. While I’m not complaining and I recognize it as part of the magic of this franchise, those hoping for something a little more removed, along the lines of Guardians of the Galaxy, will be out of luck. But those who aren’t yet sick of the term “cinematic universe” will have plenty to cheer for and even more to look forward too. The MCU just got even bigger and future Marvel filmmakers have a whole new box of tools to utilize.
Overall: Ant-Man further diversifies the comic book movie palate by not attempting to be much of a superhero movie at all. It doesn’t completely marry all of its many elements perfectly, but in terms of the key plot beats, I can’t think of a better introduction to a character who I think works better on a team than in solo-capacity. Ant-Man may not be the event film we’ve become used to, but it digs out a sizeable chunk of the Marvel Universe for itself and it’s one that’s worth a look, so long as you don’t hold it too long under a magnifying glass.
Featured Image: Walt Disney Pictures