Ever since 2012’s The Avengers and Iron Man before it, the hype train for the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been chugging along, producing funny and fun if light and airy superhero flicks. Minus a few duds (here’s looking at you Thor: The Dark World and The Incredible Hulk), Marvel’s films have been both box office hits and critical darlings. But with 12 films so far, was that about to change? After all, even Pixar had their off days. With the turmoil behind the scenes regarding Edgar Wright, many were wondering if Ant-Man would signal the company’s first real failure. Miraculously, Ant-Man stays true to form and proves to be an entertaining personal film. While not the best Marvel film, it is a funny and at times heartfelt tale of a man seeking redemption for his daughter’s sake.
Ant-Man follows the intertwined lives of Scott Lang and Hank Pym. Lang is a recently released convict trying to stay on the straight and narrow for his young daughter, Cassie. Unable to hold a job due to his rough background and not allowed to visit Cassie until he’s more stable, Lang returns to a life of crime as a cat burglar and thief. Pym is a reclusive scientist, still haunted by the death of his wife and estranged from his daughter, Hope. When Pym’s protege, Darren Cross, tries to unlock and weaponize the secrets of his famous shrinking particles, Pym turns to Lang to become the Ant-Man and steal back his research. Wright’s dry wit remains imprinted across many of the film’s sequences, but writers Adam McKay and Paul Rudd bring their own style to the picture as well, creating a melting pot of styles that surprisingly work well together. The absurdity of the main superhero’s powers leads to several comedic beats, but at the heart of the film is two men trying to reconnect with their daughters.
The story is arguably one of Marvel’s most accessible, in a similar vein as the first Iron Man, but it’s not without its connections to the outer Marvel Universe. Toward the middle of the film, Lang fights with an Avenger in a sign of things to come; fans of Spider-Man will be particularly excited by reference to the wall crawler. By this point, connections to other Marvel films are almost unavoidable. Such is the nature of shared cinematic universes—each film builds off of the others. Pym’s stance on the Avengers and Tony Stark in particular as menaces sheds insight into the character’s mindset and of a growing apprehension toward superheroes among general citizens.
Peyton Reed inherited the almost thankless job of director but does an amicable job, playing with perspectives that reexamine ordinary household items from an ant’s point of view. The director seems to be having a lot of fun exploring how grand and towering the world looks from an insect’s perspective. From Lang’s first time using the suit, showing a detailed view of what the inside of a vacuum looks like in use, to a battle in a suitcase falling through the air, Reed plays with the character’s ability to change size, showing an up close epic battle before pulling back to an ordinary perspective to show how absurd and ridiculous the action looks. The third act subverts the usual case of superhero films leveling cities by taking place entirely in a little girl’s bedroom as Lang and Cross battle atop a toy train. Despite this, those expecting Avengers-level action or set pieces will be disappointed. Scenes are used more sparingly, and at times, the film shows its age pace-wise, reminiscent of the superhero flicks of the early 2000s. There was a sense that I’d already seen this movie before in both the original Spider-Man and Iron Man films.
Ant-Man proves that Paul Rudd should headline more movies. Rudd brings an everyman element to Lang, usually sarcastic and humorous in his outlook as he’s thrown headfirst into a strange new world, and always remains relatable and sympathetic in his quest. Michael Douglas is calculating and endearing in his take on Pym, with an intensity and rage bubbling under his calm exterior. Douglas’s Pym is a burnt-out version of the comic book character seeking redemption in his own way. While sadly not donning the Wasp outfit, Evangeline Lilly’s Hope is a strong and confident figure butting heads with both Pym and Lang at moments but is vulnerable in her desire to reconnect with her father. Abby Ryder Fortson is adorable as Cassie, selling the audience on Lang’s journey to be her hero, and Michael Peña steals the entire movie as Lang’s former cellmate and friend Luis. Whenever he’s on screen, he always secures a laugh with his fast talking, go lucky demeanor. A consistent problem of Marvel movies is the villain is usually the least interesting and developed in the film, and Ant-Man continues that trend. Corey Stoll makes the most of his screen time, portraying Cross as a bizarro version of Pym seeking his former mentor’s admiration, but by the end of the film, I got the sense that I still didn’t know what made him tick.
It’s best to take Ant-Man for what it is rather than what it could have been. Comic purists might be disappointed in the film’s regulation of the original Ant-Man to a mentor role as an aging scientist and of Wasp’s brief cameo in a flashback relaying her death. Likewise, others may feel bitter that Wright never got to see his vision realized on screen. But for what Ant-Man is, it is a funny and surprisingly personal film that establishes both Pym and Lang in the Marvel Universe, and a sign that Marvel can consistently produce films on its more obscure backlog.