At this point, Marvel Studios doesn’t have failures. Their movies are now judged on varying degrees of box office success and then compared and contrasted against the litany of movies the studio has released in the last seven years.
“Ant-Man” is the twelfth entry into what is now called the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, other than one scene and the inevitable after credits scene, it’s the first one in quite awhile that feels like a movie that stands on its own. The references to a massive overall story arc are virtually non-existent and it allows “Ant-Man” to get out of the storytelling rut in which “Avengers: Age of Ultron” wallowed.
But is it any good? “Ant-Man” is fun, but not the typical superhero movie. It packs a lot of character development in an under two hour film and director Peyton Reed shows restraint instead of jamming in as many action sequences as possible.
“Ant-Man” is essentially a heist movie about renowned burglar, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a whistle blower who robbed a massive corporation after being fired. After a three year stint in San Quentin Prison, he’s picked up by an old pal, Luis (Michael Pena), who immediately wants Scott to jump back into the burglary game.
Scott initially avoids a life of crime in an effort to get in the good graces of his ex-wife, Maggie (the always wasted and brilliant Judy Greer), in order to gain some sort of custody with their daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). Naturally, Scott can’t stay straight and he agrees to get in on a sure thing, half-baked robbery that Luis and his one-note pals (played hilariously by David Dastmalchian and rapper T.I.) have cooked up.
It turns out they are robbing Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a famous scientist who has hidden his mythical Ant-Man suit from his ambitiously insane former assistant, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Cross is working on duplicating a serum called the Pym Particles, which give its user the ability to shrink to microscopic size.
Since Cross wants to militarize the Pym Particles, Hank enlists Scott to help him break into Cross’ heavily guarded laboratory to steal them and prevent Cross from selling them to the highest bidder. They are aided by Hank’s estranged daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who still works for Cross out of spite for her father.
It’s extremely difficult to tell an origin story in a unique way, so “Ant-Man” is a bit formulaic for the first hour or so. Luckily, the screenplay (credited to initial director Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, and Rudd) does a great job of giving Scott, Hope, and Hank more character depth during the standard “how a guy becomes a superhero” montage.
The special effects in “Ant-Man” are so good that it actually looks like a tiny man is riding an ant. Also, the use of some highly unique and inventive locales (most too clever to be spoiled here) add to the eye candy on display.
Director Reed (probably thanks to the Rudd and McKay rewrites) plants “Ant-Man”’s tongue firmly in its cheek with many of these environments, seemingly mocking other action movies or the absurdity that is two grown human beings engaged in highly violent warfare while at the size of a speck of dust.
The supporting cast is wonderful, with a riotously goofy Michael Pena being the highlight. His team of professional (debatable) crooks deliver most of the comic relief. Corey Stoll’s eyes seem like they may pop out of his skull at any moment and he projects one of the most easily hatable bad guys in recent movie history just based on the carefree manner in which he dispatches cute sheep test subjects.
Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly spend most of the movie arguing with each other to mixed results. There’s little doubt that Lilly’s Hope can fend for herself and the reason Douglas’ Pym is overprotective of her is quite obvious, which lessens how its reveal tugs on your heartstrings. If there’s a failed subplot in “Ant-Man”, this is it.
Marvel rarely whiffs during casting and Paul Rudd as the lovable underdog Scott Lang is on par with Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. Rudd’s timing and ability to make every character relationship work make “Ant-Man” seem impossible to watch without him. It’s the type of role that is so tailor made for Rudd that there will naturally be anticipation to see him portray this character even more.
Rudd isn’t exactly an unknown, but this will vault him to A-list must see status.
“Ant-Man” is sure to be another hit in the Marvel movie world. The best thing about it is that it doesn’t feel like another two hour movement building to a “movie event.” It’s a blast and flies right by, almost ending right when you don’t want it to stop.
Be sure to take a few extra minutes to wait for those credits to finish. There another infamous Marvel post-credits scene and this time, it’s a doozy.