Adventure / Sci-Fi / Action, 117 Minutes, 2015
The overwhelming success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has allowed them a certain leeway; a certain freedom to experiment. While this hasn’t yet resulted in something truly insane, like a film led by a woman, it has allowed them to explore some of the quirkier ideas and characters available in the vast Marvel catalog. Two years ago, this led to the explosive success of Guardians of the Galaxy [IMDB] and now it brings the closest we’ve come to a straight Marvel comedy.
In the 1960’s, Hank Pym (Micheal Douglas [IMDB], doing his best curmudgeon) invented a formula to alter the distance between atoms. He implemented the technology in a suit that allowed him to shrink to the size of an insect while retaining his full-sized strength. Later that same afternoon, he also perfected a method to mentally control ants, because comics. He completed many missions for the spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D., but became worried that his technology would be used for evil and left.
Now, his former student, the unhinged Darren Cross (Corey Stoll [IMDB]), is getting closer to reverse-engineering his formula with a mind to create an unstoppable weapons platform. Pym enlists Scott Lang (the supernaturally charming Paul Rudd [IMDB]) to become the new Ant-Man. An ex-con imprisoned for a Robin Hood-style theft, Scott is working to redeem himself with his family and get visitation rights with his daughter. With the help of Pym’s estranged daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lily [IMDB]), they plot to destroy Cross’s project before it causes global havoc.
The movie plays with perspective and scale exceedingly well. Battles range seamlessly from the micro to the macro and back again with nary a one-liner missed. The effects are what we’ve come to expect from Marvel movies at this stage: bombastic CGI. Unfortunately, despite the overall quality, the actual ants are a disappointment. They look more plastic than organic – presumably to “soften” them for the audience – and it makes emotional connections with them difficult to establish.
Rudd is a fantastic casting choice. His proven record at comedy may not seem, at first blush, to make him an obvious action hero but it makes him perfect for this action hero. Ant-Man walks a taut tightrope between seriousness and absurdity, something Rudd manages exceedingly well. Michael Peña [IMDB] also deserves a mention: he brings a warmth and exuberance to what would have ended up as one-dimensional comic relief in other hands.
Overall, it suffers many of the same minor pacing and exposition-dump issues that plague most origin stories. The cast is large and the characters need backstories and introductions. This is offset by the action sequences, which are tight and well-choreographed, even if they do have a tendency to break rhythm to service a gag.
As exciting as the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that the movies have enjoyed a certain sameness. I am pleased to say that Ant-Man does not feature a giant structure crashing into a city. It does feature charming characters, a comfortable story and a hell of a lot of fun.