The latest project from Marvel is here, and in what seems to be a continuous trend (and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to end anytime soon) they are fighting an uphill battle. Ant-Man is not only plagued by the fact that the character is not very well known among general filmgoers, but the behind-the-scenes mess with Edgar Wright leaving the director’s chair gave everyone an ugly look behind-the-curtains at the otherwise fan-favorite Marvel Studios. It certainly doesn’t help with Age of Ultron underwhelming some, Marvel Studios being the punching bag to the absurd amount of recent “superhero fatigue” thinkpieces – which boomed after a certain film won a bunch of Oscars back in February. Anyway, following the debacle, Peyton Reed took over as the director of Ant-Man while Adam McKay is credited with writing the screenplay along with Paul Rudd, who also stars as the title character.
Beginning with a flashback, we first see Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) resigning from S.H.I.E.L.D. when he discovers that they were attempting to duplicate his shrinking technology, which he vows to hide from the world because of the immense power that could cause chaos if it fell into the wrong hands. In present day, he is forced to work with his estranged daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) to stop his former protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from trying to replicate Pym’s old technology after having kicked Pym out of his own company now acting as CEO. For their plan, Pym gets in touch with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), an ex-convict known for being an expert burglar. Scott Lang reluctantly joins in on Hank and Hope’s in an effort to reconnect with his own daughter that his ex-wife, Maggie (Judy Greer), won’t allow visitation rights to.
Even as someone who is generally always looking forward to what Marvel Studios is doing, even I was among the many that were, at best, cautiously optimistic for Ant-Man, but to my surprise the film actually works really well. The first person I should congratulate is probably the guy who will get the least credit and that’s Peyton Reed. This reminds me so much of the response that A.I. Artificial Intelligence got when it first came out with people trying to pick apart Kubrick’s ideas and praising them while criticizing Spielberg for his ideas. I wasn’t there during Ant-Man’s production, so I have no idea what parts were Edgar Wright stuff and what parts were Peyton Reed material. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. This is not Edgar Wright’s movie, there is no alternate cut that Marvel is trying to hide from us, and I think the film community really needs to let it go, move on and stop trying to compare this film to whatever imaginary version of the movie they have in their head. Peyton Reed’s work on Ant-Man is some of the most inspired and creative things to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it more than distracts from some of the flaws in the film’s screenplay.
Regarding that screenplay, while it is a solid effort, I do think it has a few problems holding the film back in a few areas. Though, they are problems that you’ll mostly notice after seeing the film and reflecting on it as opposed to during the film. For one, even though I like that Ant-Man uses the heist genre as its main backdrop, I will admit that the heist itself is very standard and been-there-done-that if you’ve seen any heist movie ever. In fact, many elements of the film are very standard set-ups. Scott Lang is the typical ex-con trying to go straight, but is forced to do one last job for personal/family reasons. His crew consists of a black guy (T.I.), a Hispanic guy (Michael Peña) and a vaguely Eastern European guy (David Dastmalchian) and they act mostly in the way you’d expect them to. Darren Cross is a bit of a weak villain in terms of motivation (A weak villain in a Marvel film? I’m shocked!). There also some rushed plot developments and some of the themes aren’t as fully explored as I would have liked. Not a bad script by any means though. There are plenty of good set-ups with satisfying pay-offs, it retains a solid emotional core with the dual father-daughter stories as well as how it handles as a legacy story with Hank Pym.
The faulty script is thankfully saved through sheer charm and showmanship. I already mentioned that Peyton Reed does wonderfully as the director. He is able to pull off the more intimate stakes that the film is more set out to do while also doing great stuff with visual comedy and inventive action scenes. I loved seeing the use of macro photography during the shrinking scenes; if you don’t know, macro photography is the use of special cameras to get extreme close-ups with the help of a shallow depth of field. It gave the film a very distinct look that feels like it’s ripped right out of the comics and I especially love the whole touch with Ant-Man shrinking and you see the residual waves of his shape as he continues to shrink, it had a very Jack Kirby feel to it. The cast is also where the film really shines. Even the most flat characters on paper are given stellar and committed performances on screen. Darren Cross being a one-dimensional villain, totally true, but it doesn’t stop Corey Stoll from acting the ever living hell out of that role. Paul Rudd is a fantastic lead, being able to balance the humor and the heart with the relationship with his daughter Cassie, played by Abby Ryder Fortson (by the way, the most adorable plot device ever). Michael Douglass and Evangeline Lilly are excellent and I like how much they were able to add to their characters just through their physical presence, body language and their non-verbal interactions. Even the stereotypical characters with Scott Lang’s crew are very well acted, especially Michael Peña, who makes what could’ve been an annoying character into someone instantly memorable. Even Bobby Cannavale is able to do good work as Maggie’s new husband, a character that could have easily been an unlikeable character, but instead is more human and sympathetic. The only cast member that gets the short end of the stick is probably Judy Greer as Scott’s ex-wife, oddly enough this is the second blockbuster this year, other being Jurassic World, to waste her (or three if you want to count her appearance as a dead mother in a photograph in Tomorrowland).
Even as someone who absolutely loved Age of Ultron, I’m glad to see Marvel Studios take an appropriately more back-to-basics approach with Ant-Man. It’s like watching an old-school Disney family film, and I guarantee that the kids are going to love it. It doesn’t have the heavy themes of Age of Ultron, but it knows to play things light, fast and fun and for the most part, it really, really works. It has the most heart out of any film in the MCU and that heart keeps you invested in the characters and their stories, even in the moments when the writing can get sloppy. The heist element was nice, even if it doesn’t necessarily help Ant-Man reinvent the superhero genre, but it does prevent the film from feeling like any other generic origin story. I’ll even give it that it’s probably the only Marvel film since The Avengers that doesn’t make its final act beat-em-up action finale doesn’t feel like business as usual. The film does get better as it goes along, and it earns its action climax and its heartfelt moments. Per usual, Marvel cares about its characters, and that care extends to the audience having a reason to care as well. Even the 3D isn’t too bad, it’s very well done during the shrinking scenes. Oh, and there’s two post-credits scenes – you know the drill.