We’re living in a post-Avengers sequel world and at this point it seems like the Marvel Machine can do no wrong. Like last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man takes a much needed break from the larger story in the Marvel universe in favor of a more personal story about redemption. Given the direction Marvel universe has taken since Edgar Wright pitched the movie in 2006, the timing of this movie couldn’t be more unusual. Does Ant-Man make for a proper small scale follow up to Age of Ultron or is the bite sized hero destined to fall between the cracks?
Ant-Man kicks off when master burglar Scott Lang(Paul Rudd) is released from prison and decides to turn over a new leaf. After serving his time, Scott realizes that all he wants to do is go legit so that he can return to his daughter Cassie. After the going gets tough on the job search, Scott turns to his old cell mate Luis(Michael Peña) to help him find a new heist job. Scott breaks into an old house only to discover a suit that once belonged to former tech superstar Hank Pym(Michael Douglas). After getting arrested, Scott is recruited to help Pym and his daughter Hope(Evangeline Lilly) to keep the head of Pym’s company Darren Cross(Corey Stoll) from discovering the secret to Ant-Man’s powers.
Ant-Man‘s story is actually a pretty straightforward heist story following the themes of redemption and second chances. This is Ocean’s Eleven meets the original Iron Man and that’s mostly a good thing. It’s a tale that’s far more about the the lighthearted journey than it is the obvious conclusion.
The movie’s real strength lies in its smirk pop culture references and Paul Rudd’s everyman charisma. Despite spending more than six years on this film, Edgar Wright did not end up in the director’s chair and his creative void never really feels quite filled despite Peyton Reed‘s more than capable direction. Wright is still credited as a co-writer and none of his trademark pop culture references ever misses a beat. Even with the mastermind comedian out of the picture, this movie is still one of Marvel’s funniest outings yet. Paul Rudd’s timing mixed with the Reed’s goofball sensibilities makes for a healthy dose of of laugh out loud moments.
Rudd is a a more than capable lead, but the rest of the supporting cast is a little more hit or miss. Corey Stoll has proven time and time again of his more than capable acting chops and it’s clear that he’s giving it all he’s got to paint Cross as Pym’s scorned apprentice, but the incomplete writing surrounding the character and his lack of chemistry with Michael Douglass leaves us with a villain who feels like a two-dimensional egomaniac from an entirely different movie. Evangeline Lilly is equally hit or miss. Her scenes with Rudd knock it out of the park, but she falls flat with just about every other actor in the cast.
Wright left the film due to creative differences with Marvel just before it went into full swing production and many of these casting choices and clearly rushed re-writes seem to be a consequence of too many cooks in the kitchen. Because of the uneven script there are several pivotal encounters between characters that just don’t feel earned come across as clunky and disjointed. It’s very rough around the edges, but by and large the movie delivers enough to keep the casual viewer from ever noticing the distance. The problematic script and rushed subplots do leave a bit to be desired and one might wonder how Wright’s original movie would have played.
The visual effects in this movie range from exceptional to indescribably weak. Ant-Man’s shrinking sequences look fantastic and unlike anything we’ve ever seen. His change of proportion while in motion makes for some impressive eye candy, especially in during the final confrontation. Unfortunately, for every great effects shot we get to see, there’s at least two moments when the camera attempts to follow the teeny tiny ant-man in a normal sized room. These are generally meant to be played for laughs, but unintentionally leave you with a squint induced headache.
By and large Ant-Man is a standalone heist movie that happens to feature a thief with extraordinary powers, but there are a few key Marvel tie-ins fans will want to take note of. It wouldn’t do any good to spoil all the fun, but needless to say the opening featuring an impressively de-aged Michael Douglass standing alongside Peggy Carter and Howard Stark was a great way to remind fans that Marvel still has bigger plans for founding avenger who is a little late to the party.
It’s got its fair number of issues, but Ant-Man does give us a nice character story that’s less about some ripped out super powered pretty boy saving the universe and more about a fallen man working to get his life back together in order to honor his family. What it lacks in spectacle, it makes up for in humor and personality. If Age of Ultron was supposed to be this summer’s main course, Ant-Man serves as a nice bit of dessert every self-respecting Marvel fan should check out. This is the definitive summer matinee experience for fans and casual film-goers looking to pass the time.