“Imagine a soldier the size of an insect, the ultimate secret weapon.”
I wasn’t too excited about this film considering the premise of a hero who can shrink to the size of an ant and telepathically communicate with them seemed a bit too far fetched even for a Marvel film. That and the fact that Edgar Wright decided to back down from the director’s chair after a dispute with Disney; it looked as if everything was set out for failure. Despite not being a huge fan I’ve enjoyed all the Marvel films, but I have become increasingly weary of them as well. The Thor films and the first Captain America being my least favorites, I was sure this one was going to rank somewhere among them. I definitely wasn’t expecting Ant-Man to be better than Age of Ultron, but I have to admit that the light tone worked here and this movie was much more entertaining. So, how did they pull it off? They got Peyton Reed to fill in for Wright as the director, and continued to build on Wright’s screenplay. If Reed was able to make a film about High School cheerleaders entertaining, than this Ant-Man premise would be a piece of cake for him. By lowering the stakes, approaching the material with a lot of tongue in cheek humor, and aiming at being a crowd pleaser, Ant-Man ended up being a fun and entertaining film. I wouldn’t go as far as saying this was as clever as Guardians of the Galaxy in its approach to humor and pop culture references, but it did come close. Perhaps it helped that I went in to it with very low expectations, but I walked out of the movie with a smile on my face. For once this felt like an origin story that worked on its own and didn’t have to be a gigantic setup for the next Avengers films. The premise is silly and stupid at times, but the film is big on laughs.
One of the main reasons why Ant-Man worked so well was because of Paul Reed’s lead performance as the titular character. Rudd delivers with his usual charm and perfect comedic timing. He embodies the character almost as well as Robert Downey Jr. does with Iron Man. With his smirky and cocky delivery, Downey Jr. makes Tony Stark more entertaining than when he’s wearing the actual suit, and that felt very similar with Rudd here as Scott Lang. He plays a con-man who is trying to make an honest living, but finding it incredibly difficult due to his criminal record. He has a seven year old daughter, Claire (played by the adorable Abby Ryder Fortson), who he isn’t allowed to visit until he can find stability and provide for her. Dr. Hank Pam (Michael Douglas) has kept a close eye on Scott and seems to have big plans for him. Hank has developed a special suit which allows him to shrink a man to the size of an ant and also increase his strength. Hank is too old for the suit now, but he believes Long is the ideal man for the job. He begins mentoring Scott, although his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) believes she should wear the suit. Ever since his wife died, Hank has had a terrible relationship with his daughter, but she has approached him after discovering that his former protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), has developed a similar technology and wants to sell the formula to the wrong people. Scott’s mission is to infiltrate Cross’s building and destroy what he has been working on before it is too late.
Although it does follow a similar structure as most superhero films, Ant-Man feels at times more like a comedic heist movie. Of course due to the subject matter it also reminded me a lot of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (which also seems to be very fond of ants by the way). These elements gave the film a more breezy and light touch. Even in the final act of the film where the superhero movies tend to go big with a climactic battle scene, there are some great comedic moments involving a Thomas the train track and so forth, which continually downplay the film and lighten the mood. It is definitely a huge change of tone from Age of Ultron and The Winter Soldier, so it manages to stand out on its own as a superhero movie although it still shares some of its generic flaws. Despite the great visual effects during the shrinking scenes, there are still some structural elements that don’t work as well. The family dynamic between Hope and her father and between Lang and his ex (played by Judy Greer) seem to be recycled and silly at times. Hank waits for too long in the film to explain what happened to his wife, which was more of a plot convenience than anything else. However, Paul Rudd’s comedic performance elevate this film, as do the supporting cast. Michael Peña as Rudd’s sidekick, stands out during his scenes (especially during his monologues) and he delivered some of the funniest moments of the film. Lilly also proved to be a strong female character, while Douglas is someone you can always bank on as a solid actor. Stoll wasn’t a very menacing villain, and that seems to be a common flaw in most Marvel films, but considering the stakes were much lower here it wasn’t that much of a letdown. Ant-Man was a pleasant surprise despite its silly premise and I’m actually looking forward to what Rudd can bring to the Marvel franchise.