I’ll admit, there were some concerns about expectations on my part.
After all, any one who’s been reading these pages for the last decade knows that, for reasons even beyond my explanation, Ant-Man has always been my favorite superhero. So could any movie live up to what I’d been wanting to see on the big screen for decades, but never really imagined would ever happen?
Turns out, pretty much, yeah.
I’m delighted to report that Marvel Studios’ latest release ANT-MAN is a delightfully fun action comedy, with a surprising amount of heart, and more laughs than any Marvel film this side of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. For all the online uproar about the departure of original director Edgar Wright, Peyton Reid has directed a smart, sharp little heist pic here, but with just enough connections to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe to remind you of where you are, and take advantage of those connections to have some fun.
Focusing this as a mentor/protégé take with original Ant-Man Hank Pym and new recruit Scott Lang was a smart move in envisioning this as a film, as it lets you hit the ground running with much of the backstory (such as the creation of the costume and the discovery of the “Pym particles” that allow Ant-Man to shrink) and get right to the good stuff, while at the same time adding another new layer of history and legend to the ever-expanding Marvel Universe of these films.
And as has been almost unerringly the case with Marvel Studios, the casting makes the picture. Michael Douglas as the older, embittered Hank Pym gives the film a weight and gravitas, while Paul Rudd’s comedic timing and almost indomitable likeability puts the audience on his side immediately, as we watch his ex-con Lang stumble from a return to a life of crime to going toe-to-toe with an Avenger in a classic comic-book-style “misunderstanding.” Evangeline Lilly is a touch underused as Hope Van Dyne, Hank’s estranged daughter and Scott’s unwilling and skeptical trainer, though by film’s end one suspects that won’t be the case for long.
This is most definitely a smaller-scale film for Marvel (no pun intended) and while the stakes are high (preventing Hank Pym’s vicious former protégé from selling the shrinking powers to the highest bidder), the emotional priorities here are much smaller, as Scott’s relationship with and concern for his young daughter is first and foremost, which gives this a more approachable feel than any Marvel movie yet.
The film also opens with a fantastic flashback character scene set in the ‘80s in which a young and furious Hank Pym angrily confronts his SHIELD taskmasters and turns in his resignation, and I have to say, the CGI-generated younger Michael Douglas is so convincing, I’m ready for an entire retro 1980s Hank Pym Ant-Man movie, especially with the brief and tantalizing flashback sequence we get later in the film of Ant-Man and the Wasp in action back in the day. (If only he’d been wearing the real helmet, but we can’t have everything…)
As we’re beginning to see now, the key to Marvel Studios’ success is that they don’t just make superhero pictures, they make all kinds of genres of films that just happen to star superheroes, be it THE WINTER SOLDIER’s political thriller or GUARDIANS’ space-opera or ANT-MAN’s heist comedy. And after 11 previous movies, with ANT-MAN we have a superhuman movie with the emphasis on the “human,” and it’s a real breath of fresh air.