Director: Peyton Reed
Writers: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd (Based on Ant-Man by Stan Lee & Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby, and David Michelinie & John Byrne)
Distributed By: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Michael Peña, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Abby Ryder Fortson
Release Date: July 17, 2015
In the immortal words of Stan “The Man” Lee, “face front true believers”, it’s time for another Marvel Movie Review! In this installment of MOVIE MULTIVERSE, we put Marvel’s tiniest superhero under the microscope, as we take a close look at ANT-MAN ! Ant-Man, coming after TWO massive-scale Avengers movies, and a slew of stand-alone Marvel flicks that just get bigger and bigger with every outing, as some pretty big shoes to fill, but rather than keep with the “bigger is better” formula Marvel has stuck with for each subsequent entry, Ant-Man scales things back a bit and delivers a smaller character-driven story more in keeping with the first Iron Man movie. Let’s see if it measures up.
Right off the bat, if you’re looking for a spot-on adaptation from the source material, you should know that things have been changed around a bit to fit within the framework of the live-action movies. For example, in the comics, the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his wife Janet aka The Wasp are the founders of The Avengers, but in the movies, that title belongs Nick Fury (as he created them in Marvel’s Ultimate line of comics). Pym also creates Ultron in the comics and generally just operates in the same timeline as everyone else.
Here in the movie, the original Ant-Man and The Wasp were crime-fighters throughout the 60s and 80s. The second Ant-Man in the comics was ex-convict and cat-burglar extraordinaire Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who stole the suit to steal the necessary goods and rescue a doctor from the villainous Darren Cross so she could save his dying daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston). When he tried to return the suit, Hank Pym took him on as his successor so-to-speak, and he became a full-fledged superhero. Change “save daughter’s life” to “pay massive amounts of child support otherwise he isn’t allowed to be in is daughter’s life” and we have more or less the setup in a nutshell. It’s still the story of a man redeeming himself, and doing what he does for the sake of his daughter. But this take on the tale is less far-fetched and much more relatable. Also, this time around the original Ant-Man takes a much more active role, going from torch-passer to mentor and trainer, which is a far better use of the character, and a more compelling story overall.
As I said, this is the story of a father and daughter, Scott and Cassie. But more importantly, we’re given a B-plot to go along with it, which is the story another father and daughter, Hank and Hope (Evangeline Lilly). The movie is about these relationships first, and the slam-bang action second, which is really what makes it so good. By becoming the Ant-Man, Scott not only thwarts an evil villain (more on said villain later) but also helps his daughter and redeems himself in the process; and by helping him fulfill his mission, Hank rebuilds his relationship with his estranged daughter and finally becomes the father she always needed.
Our villain is Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), a megalomaniacal scientist who was once a protégé of Hank Pym, who has become completely obsessed with outdoing him in every way, ever since he was rejected for wanting access to the Ant-Man technology, as Pym didn’t want it falling into the wrong hands. He’s more of a straightforward villain, a hand-twisting greedy CEO, like we got in Iron Man with Jeff Bridges as Obediah Stane, but far more paranoid, psychotic, and riddled with insecurities that bring about some disturbing tendencies. Not an entirely sympathetic villain like the Loki or even Man of Steel’s tragic take on General Zod, but not completely one-note either, Cross is somewhere in between and it works surprisingly well.
So, there we have it folks, our A B and C plots all basically revolve around fathers and their effects on their children (literal or figurative). Scott was missing from his daughter’s life for three years. Hank pushed his daughter away after a terrible tragedy. And Hank spurned his protégé, who saw him as a father-figure, eventually creating his own worst enemy. Beneath the flashy action and light-hearted humor typical of a Marvel movie, this film has a surprising amount of depth.
That being said, one of my major grievances with the film stems from the Hank/Hope estranged relationship dilemma. Due to a major tragedy in their lives (AVOIDING SPOILERS), Hank pushes his daughter away and refuses to tell her the truth about what happened for years. During the movie this all comes to a head, of course, and he explains he kept the details of the tragic event a secret to protect her. There is absolutely nothing she needed protection from, and her knowing what happened would in no way endanger her. If he had said he didn’t want to tell her because he felt horribly guilty and that he saw it as entirely his fault, that actually would have made sense and made for a much stronger scene. But as it stands, the scene features a throw-away line and a non-explanation that puts a major dent in what could have been THE centerpiece of the film. It’s a minor detail, but a major complaint.
My only other complaints are so miniscule they’re hardly worth mentioning, but mention them I must. One would be how quickly both Ant-Man and the villain get in and out of their spiffy costumes. One plot point in an earlier scene is that Scott gets into this weird one-piece metal-mesh-leather-jumpsuit-thingy in less than ten seconds. And later, our villain gets into his while falling in a crashing helicopter in less than five seconds. I know it’s a “superhero” movie or even just a “sci-fi/fantasy” movie and I should let it go, right? But I won’t. All genres should be held to the same scrutiny, and movies that can avoid such scrutiny are all the better for it. Moving on, my last point of contention is even less bothersome than that. It’s established late into the film that the villainous Darren is psychotic and extremely paranoid, but when it’s shown just how far is paranoid surveillance goes, it stretches even the limits of even my ability to suspend disbelief. It’s hard to illustrate just how far his paranoia goes without spoilers, so just take my word for it.
Going back to the positives, one would be hard-pressed to find more engaging and enthusiastic supporting cast members. Judy Greer as Scott’s ex-wife grounds the film even further than Douglas or Lilly, providing the impetus for Scott to be a better man. Forston is absolutely adorable as Scott’s daughter and you can’t help but love her in each scene she’s in. Michael Peña and his cohorts provide most of the comic relief as Scott’s friends and cat-burglar crew. The two scenes where Peña narrates the onscreen action are priceless.
As a sci-fi action flick, one would be remiss not to mention the special effects. Well, go figure, they’re superb. The same visual effects used to make Chris Evans look puny in Captain America are used to make Michael Douglas look young in flashbacks, and seeing the world magnified from Scott’s shrunken perspective is a visual feast, and the insane attention to detail is spectacular. From the way droplets of water form massive globules of terror to seeing the transparency effects of an ant’s skin, no detail goes untouched. And the visuals serve the story as well, not just being there for the action. Seeing the camera zoom in and out of Scott’s shrunken worldview as he encounters other characters and situations helps not only engross the viewer with what he’s going through, but it also helps provide for a few of the movies more humorous bits of comedy relief.
Other than those three microscopic criticisms, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It’s big, glorious sci-fi fun that works great as a stand-alone movie but still sets up for both prequels and sequels should you want more adventures with these characters. And the characters are written and portrayed so well that you’d be crazy not to want more of them. As most certainly one of Marvel’s best movies so far, Ant-Man proves that “good things come in small packages”. It easily earns a solid 8 out of 10.