Directed by: Peyton Reed
The Plot: Upon release from prison former cyber-vigilante/cat burglar Scott Lang, (Rudd) discovers that it’s going to be extremely problematic as an ex-con earning money to pay his ex-wife back child-support so that he can attain partial visitation rights for their daughter. Encouraged by his criminal associates (lead by a never-funnier Michael Pena) to do one last heist on a kooky old scientist’s house, (Douglas) Lang ends up swiping a strange full-body suit, and through trial and error determines that the suit has the ability to shrink its wearer’s size down to particle levels. Meanwhile an unscrupulous weapons designer (Stoll) has been working on his own micro-costume-technology, and has designs at creating armies of teeny super-soldiers.
The Film: A year after Marvel put the boot to Edgar Wright, the hero film he’d been working on for almost a decade has finally been released. This isn’t Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man anymore, technically it’s Peyton Reed’s, (the company yes man responsible for films like… Yes Man) but it still carries the talented Brit fanboy’s Cornetto flavor. When you have a great script these Marvel things practically direct themselves anyway. Or so Disney would have us believe. To its credit Ant-Man turns out to be one of the “fun” Marvel ventures. There’s still the bigger picture Cape-Opera thing going on, (an attack on an Avengers storage facility, leading to a fairly epic lawn battle between Ant-Man and Falcon) but this is a less meddlesome, less cumbersome – much more awesome – Marvel hero movie.
Then again, most Marvel origin tales are their gateway material. They pay top dollar for high-end filmmaking talent, let them deliver, then heist the property away to bend it to the will of the commercial master plan. Just ask Joss Whedon, Kenneth Branagh, and Edgar Wright. At Marvel Studios the first film is always the hook. The follow-ups, unfortunately, are usually the sinker. (this means you Age Of Ultron) So go see this new guy, Ant-Man, while he still carries his own voice and identity.
In a brilliant bit of casting we get Paul Rudd as the ex-con-turned-cat-burglar-turned-masked-pugilist. Rudd’s an exact match for this character because he’s a reclusive, small-scale celebrity with major screen appeal. If anyone knows the transition between microbe and man – it’s Rudd. If any one actor knows how to turn a man into a microbe, surely it’s Gordon Gekko himself, Michael Douglas.
There’s a scene in the middle of the film that has Dr. Plym explaining to Scott Lang how difficult it’s going to be to infiltrate his recently evil-ized PymTechnologies to steal his heisted tech back from his ruthless protege, Dr. Cross. To which Lang replies: “Why don’t we just call the Avengers?” And we’re like: “Duh?” It’s a giant load off the film, because Wright’s script is at least acknowledging the obvious disadvantage of every Marvel one-off. Why not call in the cavalry? Why tackle every extinction event plague by yourself?
In explanation Dr. Plym says he never trusted the Starks with his technology. In an interesting bit of irony he trusts the worst person imaginable – a hair follicle holocaust survivor and corporate underling with issues of covetousness and ambition. Dr. Darren Cross – Aka, Yellowjacket. Another Marvel villain who does the gig down to the letter of its job description – which is be a trivial dick and put up a good fight when the showdown finally rolls around. It seems like a waste of resources to slap an actor of Corey Stoll’s range with a character so, for lack of a better term, small.
Where Ant-Man excels is in Edgar Wright’s script never settling for being another canned action movie. One of the best sequences in the film is a fight between Yellowjacket and Ant-man that takes place in a locked briefcase falling from the sky. From our homo-sapiens god spot a tiny fight to the death may appear comical – and of course Wright’s bleeding this subject for every ounce of humor he can get as major altercations between rivals occur in exotic locations like briefcases and on Thomas the Train train sets – but down at Ant-Man’s level, it’s a fierce contest for survival. A theater of life and death.
We also shouldn’t discount just how “neat” a movie this Ant-Man turns out to be. On paper a tiny hero running with a herd of ants as his allies reads as fairly stupid. But under the microscope of your local IMAX retail outlet – and in 3D preferably – it’s pretty cool. These bugs have plenty of personality. Your kids are going to go nuts over these entomological marvels.
The Verdict: Ant-Man has a whole lot of heart, and as it turns out, hits that Summer movie sweet spot between being a fun, funny film, while still delivering on its action quota. My favorite sections were Lang’s training to become Ant-Man. Reminiscent of old Shaw Brothers martial arts movie training sequences, except no Shaolin monk never had to run full speed at a bedroom door and dive at the keyhole head first, zip down to the appropriate proportion to sail through it, and then balloon again to original stature once the jamb had been cleared to land on the other side firmly on their feet – all in a single move. Believe me, it’s much more tricky than it sounds.