On paper, I’m sure “Ant-Man” always looked like a tough sell. A superhero who discovers a suit that gives him the power to shrink to the size of an insect and control an army of ants isn’t an easy concept to pull off onscreen. With the film project also mired in development delays and internal issues, such as Marvel and original director Edgar Wright parting ways, “Ant-Man” seemed to be on a fast-track to earning the distinction of Marvel’s first real flop. However, the good news is, Marvel’s magic has worked once again, and “Ant-Man” is a charming, fun — and funny — addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
There are actually two “Ant-Mans” in this movie: Michael Douglas plays Hank Pym, the original creator of the suit who hides his technology from S.H.I.E.L.D. for fear of what could happen if it fell into the wrong hands, and Paul Rudd, who plays an ex-con named Scott Lang who is recruited by Pym to stop Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from giving a similar technology to HYDRA. Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) train Lang to use the Ant-Man suit and show him that he’s capable of more than committing crimes.
Although I was initially more than a little worried about “Ant-Man,” considering all its production woes, this movie turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and I have to confess that I think I actually enjoyed it more than “Age of Ultron.” “Ant-Man” is certainly a film on a smaller scale (sorry, I know it’s bad, but I had to throw in at least one of those puns), and it doesn’t have the epic scope of the Marvel movies we’ve seen recently, such as “The Winter Soldier,” which brings the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. organization to its knees, or “Age of Ultron,” which features the creation of an artificial intelligence with the power to bring on the apocalypse. It does feel more like a “Phase I” origin story on the level of Marvel’s earliest films, and to some that could be a disadvantage.
However, that’s actually what I liked about “Ant-Man.” “Age of Ultron” almost had too many characters and too much going on. It tried to be darker but still pack in plenty of Marvel’s famous one-liners. “Ant-Man” may be a less grandiose movie, but it’s also a more cohesive story. While it does tie into the larger Marvel universe (there’s a great extended cameo — SPOILER ALERT! — from Anthony Mackie’s Avenger, “Falcon”), it also stands on its own, with a unique tone and message.
This film feels more like a comedy with action than Marvel’s other offerings (which feel like action with comedy), but I think that’s the right approach for this project. Paul Rudd is a good choice to play Scott Lang; I’ve always been a fan of Rudd’s, and he’s relatable and funny in this role. It’s also great to see Michael Douglas in a Marvel movie, and he plays the role sincerely. Another highlight for me was Michael Peña as Lang’s enthusiastic and good-natured former cell mate Luis.
The film’s special effects also are strong. While a tiny superhero running with ants may not seem as dynamic as, say, Bruce Banner rampaging as the Hulk, watching Scott Lang shrink down and control an army of hundreds of ants is actually pretty cool. I also really liked the fight scenes with Ant-Man and Yellowjacket (the villain Stoll’s character becomes), with both characters alternately shrinking then jumping back to full size.
The film does have some weaknesses, one of which is the villain. There’s nothing wrong with the casting; I just wish Corey Stoll had been given a little more to work with in terms of character background and motivation. Part of me also still wonders what a full-on Edgar Wright Marvel movie would have been like. Wright is perhaps best known for his film “Shaun of the Dead” and has a quirky, decidedly British style of comedy. I’m sure this version of “Ant-Man” has been altered somewhat from his original vision, but I’d like to think the funniest moments — such as the mini train set fight — were Wright’s touches.
Although “Ant-Man” isn’t a flawless film, as a movie-going experience I really enjoyed it, and I’m definitely eager to see it again. I hope it performs well at the box office because I want to see Marvel make more movies like this one. I’m excited about Marvel’s big round-up movies like “Captain America: Civil War,” but I also still want to see them pursue smaller, origin-story projects like this one.