It’s a minor miracle that Ant-Man even exists as a film. While the character is known to comics fans around the world, general audiences are not overly familiar with the shrinkable hero. They might know the name from various cartoon incarnations over the years, be it ones they watched themselves, their siblings, or their children, but he’s not even on the same level of awareness that characters like Iron Man or Thor were pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe. Pair that with the fact that the name is admittedly very silly and you already have an uphill battle.
As most know, that hill became a mountain over the years as the project was developed. Ant-Man has been batted around as an MCU candidate since the early days of Phase One, after all. Last year, when it was finally ready to march into production, it lost its primary creative force. Edgar Wright, fan favorite director of a wonderful handful of genre masterpieces, bowed out of a project that he had shepherded for the better part of a decade. It could have been a fatal blow for any production, let alone a studio one with ties to a very large franchise, so the fact that it marched forward and made it to the silver screen is amazing enough. The fact that it is actually really good is almost astonishing.
Ant-Man is a good movie and an incredibly entertaining one. For that, in addition to Marvel maestro Kevin Feige, we have the revised creative team to thank. Director Peyton Reed, screenwriter Adam McKay, and star/co-screenwriter Paul Rudd have managed to turn a potential trainwreck into a small, weird summer blockbuster that comes as a breath of fresh air after all of the gargantuan CGI that has been thrown our way. That’s not to say that this film is short on digital effects, as it’s filled with them. What Reed and company have done, however, is to back things up and present such spectacle on a more intimate and surprisingly whimsical scale.
Yes, the stakes are actually high enough to warrant some concern for humanity. After all, who wants Hydra with their hands on world-changing supersuit tech? Much like the first Iron Man film, things thankfully remain grounded. In the end, the fight is between two men and never devolves into a mass sequences of dozens of suits blasting the hell out of other suited foes. The film could have easily gone that route, but it chose to take its incredible shrinking battles to locales such as suitcases and toy trains sets, as opposed to a makeshift public gladiatorial arena. Iron Man 2 this is not.
The script could have still used some work. The fact that it works as much as it does is a testament to not only Reed’s direction, but to the cast he has assembled. Rudd is utterly charming as cat burglar-with-a-heart-of-gold Scott Lang and rarely resorts to being smug or simply mugging. We already like Scott from the get-go, despite his faults, and we grow to love him as he takes on the mantle of Ant-Man. Michael Douglas is rather laid back as weary genius Dr. Hank Pym, but is as welcome a presence as ever. Evangeline Lilly brings a feisty strength to her character that we don’t see often these days. It’s refreshing that the film doesn’t slap her with the usual “learn to love the hero” subplot right out of the gate.
Corey Stoll is given a lot of breathing room as our antagonist, Darren Cross (and later, Yellowjacket). This hasn’t always been the case with Marvel villains. Many have been one-note and while that has worked wonders in some cases (Red Skull, Abomination), it has acted like a paired of concrete shoes on others (Malekith, Whiplash) and torpedoed an already sinking ship. Cross doesn’t reach the heights of Loki or “Daredevil”s Kingpin, but he does a great job nonetheless.
Speaking of would-be villains, I was extremely pleased that neither Scott’s ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) nor her current husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) were portrayed in a negative light. All too often we see tales of broken families present our protagonist ex-significant other (and their own current lover) as nothing more than a hate-spewing, irrational obstacle in the way of our lead. That doesn’t happen here at all.
Both Maggie and Paxton care what happens to Scott, but they care more about giving Scott and Maggie’s daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) a stable and loving home. Scott, no matter how good his intentions were or are, is a danger to that. I would have liked a lot more than the three short scenes that we got with Maggie, both for Judy Greer’s sake and the character’s, so that’s something that needs to be worked on in any potential Ant-Man 2.
Above all others, the standout here is Michael Pena. His character Luis, Scott’s old prison cellmate turned best friend, is an absolute beacon of energy and positivity. The film practically sings whenever he is on screen and he is Ant-Man’s secret weapon. Scott’s other compatriots, Dav (T.I. Harris) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian), are a hoot as well, but Pena is the clear standout.
Moving back to the visuals, Marvel have truly outdone themselves here. While there is nothing as grand as some of the imagery in the Avengers films and Guardians of the Galaxy, there are some truly unique sequences within. Anyone who ever doubted the creativity and inventiveness that an Ant-Man film might hold need only sit through the early sequences in the film to change their mind and that doesn’t even cover the vastly entertaining finale. I was chuckling like a madman at all of the laughter and fun to be found during the film’s climax.
There’s so much more I could discuss. For one, the film has a pretty good score, which is sadly a rarity in the MCU. There are also a host of cameos from familiar faces, both in the past and the present. The de-aging tech used to bring Douglas back to his Black Rain days is also the best we’ve seen to date. Both the mid-credits and post-credits scenes also work for me, which is something that hasn’t always been true lately. There’s also Baskin Robbins, Antony, the always welcome and ever-sleazy Martin Donovan, etc. I don’t think you want to be reading this review for the rest of the day, however, so we can save all those discussions for a later date.
Once again, the film isn’t perfect. It drags in places and some of the character moments don’t click as well as they should, but it’s never enough to stop Ant-Man from being a wholly entertaining experience. I’m sure many will point at various moments in the film and label them as Wright antics or McKay yucks or pure Rudd bits, but none of that really matters. No matter who responsible for each and every moment within, all that matters is that all of it combines to create one of the better films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From the action to the laughs to the tender moments, Ant-Man is a keeper in my eyes.