Sometimes you need a little guy
When you’ve developed a franchise predicated on big personalities and even bigger set pieces, the only logical course of action is to take things to a smaller scale. Ant-Man takes this mindset literally and succeeds as a result.
Recently released from prison, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) struggles to secure himself a future so that he may see his daughter Cassie again. Broke, jobless, and poised to return to his life of crime, Scott finds his way into the presence of Hank Pym (Michael Douglass) who offers him an alternative. Seeing something in Scott, Hank offers him a chance to take up mantle of “Ant-Man” – a hero with the power to shrink, as well as communicate with ants — and become the hero Cassie thinks he is.
As previously stated, Marvel has stripped down its usual formula here and created a much smaller, more personal film. The creative influences of men like Adam McKay and Edgar Wright can be felt, as Paul Rudd gives a phenomenal lead performance. Equal parts funny and sly, Scott Lang represents the most relatable Marvel cinematic hero to date. Despite that, Scott really serves as audience surrogate to meet Hank Pym – to whom the film truly belongs. As the original Ant-Man, Michael Douglas lends his considerable charisma towards selling the ridiculous aspects of the titular hero. Rudd and Douglas also interact incredibly well with Lang’s “crew” — led by Luis (Michael Peña) — who provides comic relief in droves. Surprisingly, Ant-Man also does an effective job of making the ants into truly loveable characters as well, making us legitimately cheer and fear for them when they ride into battle.
Fairing less well in their respective parts are Corey Stoll and Evangeline Lily. Both are fine actors who do well with what the script provides them, which sadly falls short. The film doesn’t spend quite enough time exploring Lily’s Hope Van Dyne character to make her arc feel organic. Stoll’s Darren Cross suffers from a similar problem, becoming yet another bland Marvel villain. Several times we see the film hint at a failed mentor/mentee relationship between Pym and Cross, but not enough to make us feel Cross’ supposed bitter resentment towards Pym.
With regards to its greater place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man does an effective job of carving out its niche. Many other films in the franchise have felt marred by an obvious question: why not just call The Avengers? Without giving too much away, the film does an excellent job of explaining why Tony Stark and company cannot get involved while reminding us that they firmly exist within this universe.
While Ant-Man features plenty of CGI and action sequences, they never feel overblown. Watching Scott shrink and grow as he lays a beat down on his enemies has a definite exhilarating quality, feeling somewhat reminiscent of Nightcrawler’s White House attack in X2: X-Men United. However, these scenes can occasionally feel a bit clunky and hard to follow, primarily because the point-of-view constantly changes between the normal-sized and shrunken world, working best when highlighting the cunning of the protagonists.
Many recent Marvel films have taken on classic film genres – such as the 1970’s political thriller with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and the 1980’s Spielberg blockbuster with Guardians of the Galaxy – and Ant-Man continues that tradition. Influences from the heist films such as The Italian Job, and Ocean’s 11 constantly make themselves apparent. Watching Scott, Hank, and the rest of the crew prepare their caper makes for some of the most interesting scenes! in the film. Not since the original Iron Man have we had this much fun watching a hero tinker and learn the limitations of his newfound abilities.
While not perfect, Ant-Man shows that Marvel still have plenty of tricks left up their sleeves. Clever genre manipulation, adherence to established continuity, and mostly great performances more than make up for some occasionally sub-par action sequences. By stripping away the grandiosity that has become standard for a Marvel film, Ant-Man distinguishes itself while providing something different from what we have seen before, and will likely see in Marvel’s Phase 3 films