Movie Review: “Ant-Man”

Starring
Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Michael Peña, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Wood Harris
Director
Peyton Reed

Believe it or not, a big-screen adaptation of “Ant-Man” has been in development since the so-called MCU was just a twinkle in Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige’s eye. It’s been a decade in the making, and a majority of that time was spent under the guidance of director Edgar Wright. Many people didn’t think it would ever get made, and when Wright left the project only weeks before production was scheduled to begin, citing creative differences, it nearly broke the internet. You have to respect Wright for maintaining his integrity by refusing to kowtow to the bigwigs at Marvel, but Feige deserves credit for holding his ground as well, because considering its troubled production, “Ant-Man” could (and probably should) have been a disaster. Instead, it’s a funny and fast-paced superhero film that serves as a welcome breath of fresh air compared to the typical end-of-the-world summer blockbusters.

Paul Rudd stars as Scott Lang, a gifted thief and ex-convict who’s trying to put his life back together for the sake of his young daughter. And he gets that second chance when he’s recruited by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) – a genius inventor who’s hidden his groundbreaking particle technology, which can shrink a human down to the size of an ant, from the rest of the world – to break into his company’s research facility and thwart his power-hungry protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), from replicating the technology. Cross plans to militarize his version of the Pym particles, which he’s dubbed Yellowjacket, and sell it to the highest bidder for the purpose of creating the ultimate super-soldier. Sound familiar? In order to protect the weapon from falling into the wrong hands, Scott must assume the mantle of Ant-Man using a suit that grants its wearer increased strength while microscopic and the ability to telepathically control an army of ants.

In keeping with Marvel’s tradition of exploring different genres with each new movie, “Ant-Man” is primarily a heist film that strikes a nice balance between comedy, action and drama. It’s also a movie that has serious daddy issues, featuring parallel father/daughter stories – from Scott’s attempt to regain visitation rights with Cassie (the adorable Abby Ryder Fortston), to Hank’s fractured relationship with his estranged daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who blames him for the mysterious death of her mother – that drive the overall narrative. After all, “Ant-Man” is just as much about Hank Pym’s role as the titular hero as it is about Scott Lang taking over, and that was a brave but smart decision that pays off emotionally, as well as strengthens the connective tissue of Marvel’s expansive cinematic universe. Director Peyton Reed wasn’t given an easy task coming onboard so late in the game, but he does an admirable job of producing a streamlined, standalone adventure that weaves in references to the MCU without feeling slavish to the material.

It’s difficult to know exactly how much of Edgar Wright and “Attack the Block” director Joe Cornish’s original script was retained in the final version (they both receive a screenplay and story credit), but one thing that Wright deserves full recognition for is assembling the excellent cast. While Marvel still hasn’t solved its villain problem, with Stoll consigned to playing another cookie-cutter villain who’s very similar to Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane (albeit with a slightly reversed mentor/student dynamic), the core trio delivers some really good performances. Rudd is perfectly cast as the smart-aleck Everyman, Douglas brings legitimate weight to a character that demands respect the minute he appears on screen, and Lilly finds plenty of moments to shine in what’s basically the Pepper Potts role. (If you haven’t guessed yet, “Ant-Man” has a lot in common with the first “Iron Man” movie.) The rest of the supporting cast is solid, but Michael Peña deserves special mention as Scott’s former cellmate, stealing virtually every scene he’s in.

Though the interactions between Scott and his helper ants are pretty ridiculous, the film completely owns it, which goes a long way in selling the idea of a superhero working alongside insects. It’s also refreshing to see a comic book movie that doesn’t end with yet another city-destroying finale, instead opting for set pieces on a much smaller scale that still have big stakes. “Ant-Man” is probably the only action movie you’ll ever see where the climactic third-act battle takes place inside a little girl’s bedroom, and yet it’s one of the best moments in the movie, resulting in some cool action beats that have a lot of fun with the character’s shrinking/growing powers. Though “Ant-Man” is a tad generic at times, and never quite as out there as it could be, it’s an undeniably unique superhero film that’s loaded with charm. Granted, it had the potential to be something truly exceptional in the hands of someone like Wright, but the fact that a movie called “Ant-Man” is enjoyable at all is an impressive feat on its own.

  

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