Part of me will always wonder what Ant-Man would have looked like had Edgar Wright not left the director’s chair. Wright has long since proven to be a wonderful talent behind the camera with Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (my favorite movie of 2010) and The World’s End, all of which succeeded in giving audiences an awesomely entertaining time at the movies. He left this film after having been involved with its development for several years as Marvel had different plans for it than he did, and that usually spells trouble for any cinematic endeavor. But we can only wonder so much about that until we realize that we will never truly know what could have been.
When all is said and done, Ant-Man proves to be a very entertaining time at the movies. It is yet another superhero origin story, but one that feels fresh and unlike others that just go through the motions. It may not be the best Marvel has to offer, but it proves to be better than this summer’s fun but rather flawed Avengers: Age of Ultron.
We come to meet Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) just before he leaves prison after serving a sentence for robbery (but not armed robbery mind you). Scott was once married and has a daughter who thinks the world of him, and he is desperate to make an honest living despite his law breaking past. After a job at Baskin Robbins goes bust for him, he is contacted by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a brilliant physicist who invites him to take his place as Ant-Man, a superhero who can take on the bad guys no matter how big or small he is.
When it comes to superhero movies, I have long since tired of the origin story as it feels like a setup for a franchise Hollywood studios keep begging for in this day and age. But Ant-Man felt like a fresh and subversive take on the origin story to where I couldn’t remember the last origin movie I had recently seen. The only thing it did remind me of was that Monty Python sketch about ants which showed how strong they are when it comes to lifting things that are far greater than their weight. Watching it also had me excited at the possibilities of what one person can do if they are shrunk down to such a miniscule size, and that’s even though we would like certain body parts to be larger than they already are.
Paul Rudd is a perfect choice to play Scott Lang as his effortless charisma makes you believe that this is an ex-con who is ever so eager to turn his life around for the sake of his daughter. This is a role that could have been played either too seriously or broadly, but Rudd manages to find a balance to where this character is not the usual brooding super hero that has occupied many comic book movies to an annoying abandon.
Of course, every superhero movie needs a strong female character, and we get just that with Hope van Dyne. The daughter of Hank Pym, she is played by Evangeline Lilly whom we all know from the TV series Lost and for playing the elf Tauriel in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. Lilly’s character has to deal with many conflicting emotions when it comes to her father and Scott, and it’s endlessly fascinating to see how she handles those emotions from start to finish. What could have been an easily disposable role is made all the more unforgettable thanks to Lilly’s committed performance as someone who is still stuck in the past and trying to make a better future for herself and everyone else.
Many of us, including myself, grew up with Michael Douglas in movies like Romancing the Stone, The War of the Roses and Fatal Attraction, and he has since graduated to playing the role of elder statesman in recent years. His performance as Hank Pym is one of the best I have seen Douglas give in some time as he imbues his character with a lot knowledge and wisdom as well as a lot of heart. Hank is a deeply flawed man who does what he can to protect his family but ends up unintentionally wounding those closest to him in the process. Douglas is perfectly cast here as he is great at making us root for someone we almost don’t want to root for but ending doing so all the same.
Then there’s Michael Pena who gives a terrific performance each and every time he’s onscreen, and he steals one scene after another as Scott Lang’s best friend Luis. Pena infuses an infectious energy in his performance that makes you want to be a part of Ant-Man’s plan to get back at the bad guys, and his performance as Luis is another memorable role to add to his wide variety of ones he has performed to such a great extent.
And let’s not forget Corey Stoll who makes for a wonderfully detestable villain as Darren Cross, an ever so bitter student of Hank Pym who looks to go into the Ant-Man business for himself. Stoll has left quite the impression on audiences ever since his role as Ernest (“who wants to fight”) Hemingway in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. It’s nice to see that he doesn’t give us the usual one-dimensional bad guy that we can typically expect in a summer movie, and that makes his character of Darren all the more threatening.
Ant-Man was directed by Peyton Reed whose previous credits include Yes Man, The Break-Up and Bring it On, all of which I should have seen already, but anyway. Reed does fine work in balancing out the characters here with the terrific special effects on display to where Ant-Man never comes across as the usual comic book movie fare. It makes me excited for what will come next.
We can be sure that this will not be the last time we will see Ant-Man on the big screen. After all, what’s a Marvel movie without a franchise? You can expect the usual batch of post-credit sequences that will require you to sit through the end credits and appreciate the fact that hundreds of people worked hard to make this movie a reality. But for a change I don’t find myself looking to a Marvel sequel with sarcasm. I look forward to it as a promising continuation of a story that features one of the more unusual Avengers to inhabit this ever growing cinematic universe.