OK, admittedly there is no fan of either the Marvel cinematic or comic-book universe that was clamoring for a film adaptation of the ‘Ant-Man’ character, a super-hero that can change his size at will and control ants. Despite this, for eight years, writer/director Edgar Wright pushed Marvel Studios to finance his vision of a comedic adventure/heist film, seeing potential in a story about a hard-luck burglar blocked from visitation with his daughter who inherits the mantle of Ant-Man and becomes a reluctant hero. Citing ‘creative differences’ with the studio after they finally gave him a shot, Wright walked off the project, and pinch-hitter Peyton Reed stepped in to complete (with screenplay help from Adam McKay and Paul Rudd, the star of the film himself). This type of turmoil many times results in an uneven, bland final product, but ‘Ant-Man’ is surprisingly entertaining, fun, and can claim its’ unique spot amongst the now very recognizable and fully formed Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
The film wisely casts very capable and engaging actors in both lead and supporting roles. It introduces Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the creator of the ‘Pym particle’, the compound responsible for shrinking and enlarging molecules. Unknown to non comic fans, Hank Pym was the original Ant-Man/Giant-Man, a founding member of the Avengers, with his wife Janet, a.k.a. Wasp. Here he is integrated into the history of the MCU as a scientist/covert soldier who worked for S.H.E.I.L.D. under Howard Stark, father of Tony (again played by John Slattery), and Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), who quit when he believed his invention would be used for possible nefarious purposes. Pym passes his suit and codename (even the movie makes fun of it in a playful way) to Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), the reluctant thief described above. Scott is also aided by Pym’s daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly, itching to take up the cause herself) and his crew of harmless miscreants (the biggest stand-out is Michael Pena as Luis, who steals multiple scenes, especially the flashback recollections of his information gathering).
‘Ant-Man’ is generally light in tone, with a loose, funny screenplay, and neat special effects. The scenes of Scott donning the suit and shrinking to insect level are well-staged and a welcome update to the green screen wonders of shrinking movies past. This film uses the ability as a power that can be controlled, as opposed to an unfortunate predicament, and it’s surprising how effective a fighter Ant-Man is able to be (particularly in an inspired scene where he meets a familiar Avenger and reluctantly does battle). Rudd seems to be having fun in the role and he is surprisingly well-suited to this world of heroes – he comes off as less goofy than in the comedies he has been in, bringing some attitude to the part. The actual ant fx in the movie are inspired, utilizing different species of ant to perform different tasks, making a conceit that is ridiculous on paper one of wonder and unique in the field of superhero powers on screen today.
Overall though, ‘Ant-Man’, is missing the grandeur and overly heroic trappings of most of the Marvel movies so far – it’s definitely more of a trifle as compared to the world-saving swagger of ‘Avengers’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy.’ This movie chooses to play in a small corner of the MCU, with characters and stakes as an aside to the main action, although the two stellar mid- and post-credit stingers hint at an insertion of this power-set onto the main stage – one can imagine it coming in handy amidst all the power of the heavy-hitters.
An entertaining, fun, summer movie, and a solid entry into the larger whole of the MCU . . .
Directed By: Peyton Reed
Written By: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, & Paul Rudd
Running Time: 117 min.
* * * (out of 4 stars) -or- B