Following the behemoth Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is undergoing a downsizing of sorts to close out its second phase. Retired scientist Hank Pym (Douglas), the inventor of the Pym Particle, has been fighting for decades to keep his Ant-Man technology from falling into the wrong hands. This suit allows its wearer to shrink down to the size of an insect while retaining his normal strength. Darren Cross (Stoll), Hank’s former mentee who has ousted Hank out of Pym Technologies, is close to perfecting the Yellowjacket, his own militarised version of the Ant-Man suit. Hank and his daughter Hope (Lilly) enlist the help of reformed thief Scott Lang (Rudd), who takes on the Ant-Man persona to put a stop to Cross’s evil machinations.
Ant-Manarrives in theatres carrying a great deal of scepticism on its insectoid shoulders. Many scoff at the inherent silliness of the premise, and then there’s the matter of original director Edgar Wright leaving the project, to be replaced with Peyton Reed. Marvel Studios has cleverly played the underdog card, just as they did with last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, creating a fast-paced, raucously funny, very entertaining little beast. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has attempted to stave off superhero movie fatigue by dipping its toes into various subgenres, including conspiracy thriller with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and high fantasy with Thor. Ant-Man is a comedic heist caper with a healthy amount of sci-fi stirred in. The screenplay, credited to Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and star Paul Rudd, is packed with belly laughs. The light-heartedness assists in the suspension of disbelief required to go along with the premise and admirably enough, does not undermine the more emotional beats of the story.
This is not to say the film is flawless by any stretch of the imagination. Even as it valiantly tries to offer up something fresh, Ant-Man succumbs to formula at every turn. There’s the ex-con trying to make good for the sake of his young daughter, the evil new CEO who has betrayed the man who believed in him, the tough, no-nonsense female lead who despises our hero but eventually warms to him, the comic relief trio who form the hero’s motley crew and a training montage or three to cap that off. While most of the jokes land, some of the comedy carries with it a smart-alecky, post-Apatow affectation that comes off as trying too hard. However, Ant-Man packs in a dazzling amount of visual invention, trucking out extremely clever sequences in which the mass-shifting technology is put to ingenious use. Reed has acknowledged the lineage of “shrinking” special effects-driven films that include The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Fantastic Voyage and Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and Ant-Man earns its place in that pantheon. The visual effects work on the ants, who serve as Scott’s little helpers, are not hyper-realistic, but perhaps that is to help them become a little more endearing – and endearing they are indeed.
Paul Rudd, primarily known as a comedic actor, slips into the shrinking suit with ease. After Chris Pratt’s resounding success as a leading man in GotG, casting a funnyman in a superhero part no longer seems like that much of a gamble. Rudd’s charm, charisma and mischievous streak, including his ability to play the more heartfelt moments of the film with appropriate sincerity, allow him to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the MCU’s now-venerable pantheon of leading men. Unlike several respectable big-name actors have in the past, Michael Douglas doesn’t look like he’s begrudgingly doing this big blockbuster just for the paycheck. There’s a wisdom, weariness and hint of playfulness to his Hank Pym and his presence elevates the material without seeming like he’s yelling “look at me and my prestige!”
Evangeline Lilly has several ass-kicking female characters under her belt, coming straight off playing Tauriel in the Hobbit films. Beyond the severe bob and the proficiency in martial arts, there’s Hope’s conflict with her father. Her distaste for Scott stems from her belief that she herself is far more qualified to inherit the shrinking suit, and while the character’s arc is basic, it will make more than a few misty-eyed. The trio of misfit crooks with hearts of gold who form Scott’s team provide more than a few laughs, led by Michael Peña doing his best Luis Guzmán impression as the awkward, garrulous, earnest Luis. David Dastmalchian, hitherto known as “that creepy guy you kind of recognise from The Dark Knight”, is a revelation as Kurt, rocking an over-the-top Russian accent and ridiculous coiffeur, showcasing spot-on comic timing.
The film’s one major misstep is its egregious waste of Corey Stoll’s considerable talents, relegating him to the role of a staggeringly mono-dimensional villain. Stoll eats up the part with great relish, but the Marvel movies have mainly drawn criticism for their dearth of truly compelling villains, and unfortunately, Darren Cross is no exception. As the new CEO with evil designs on the hero’s technology, he strongly echoes Obadiah Stane from the first Iron Man flick. That said, other Marvel films have sacrificed well-developed villains for the sake of well-developed heroes, a gamble that has paid off and that does pay off here.
Ant-Manproves itself as more than just the sorbet course to follow up the big steak dinner that was Age of Ultron. It’s an enjoyable romp that stands nicely on its own but is also packed full of nods and Easter Eggs to the other MCU movies and the comics at large. A friend of this reviewer was very excited at the inclusion of Scott’s daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston), and a string of cameos provides connective tissue to the rest of the films. As is de rigeurwith these movies, be sure to stick around for two stinger scenes during and after the credits. Ant-Man may not break the mould, but it offers enough fresh morsels for long-time fans and doesn’t alienate neophytes by requiring the in-depth knowledge the Avengersflicks warrant to fully enjoy. Now that’s ant-ertainment.
Summary:Bet on the little guy.
RATING: 4out of 5 Stars