Ant-Man | Peyton Reed | July 17, 2015
Marvel is, at its heart, full of family and redemption, both on the screen and on the page. There hasn’t been an even balance in the 9 solo films (counting the Guardians as one unit) and the 3 live-action TV shows, but they may have tonally figured things out for Ant-Man.
The film focuses on Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), fresh out of a 3-year stint in San Quentin for being a Robin Hood-esque whistleblower, and he’s ready to step up and financially help his young daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) and ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer). Job prospects are dour with his ex-convict status, so his friend and former cellmate Luis (Michael Peña) ropes him into a supposed major haul with Dave (Tip “T.I.” Harris) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian) – which turns out to be stealing the hidden Ant-Man suit from a safe in Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) basement. This brings Lang into the weird science-y and minor technobabble-y world of Pym, and he’s recruited by Hank and his estranged but reluctantly cooperating daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) to stop Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), Pym’s former protégé, who is close to replicating Pym’s particles for a weaponized suit called The Yellowjacket to sell to the highest bidder, be they government, military, or private contractor.
There’s plenty of history surrounding Ant-Man, both from the comics and the film’s long production. In the comics, Hank Pym (Ant-Man, among other aliases) and his wife Janet Van Dyne (a.k.a. The Wasp) are integral parts of the Marvel universe, as Hank discovered what he calls Pym Particles (which allow him to shrink and grow at will while maintaining his density and strength) and created Ultron (the killer android/AI at the core of Avengers: Age of Ultron), and as Janet came up with the name for the eponymous superhero team, among other things. There’s also a history of aggression, mental health issues, and domestic violence in the relationship – one that still haunts Pym. Eventually, Scott Lang burgles the Ant-Man suit as a last resort to save his ill daughter, and he comes to take over for Hank.
With all the up-and-down news about the film from the last year, from the change-ups (Edgar Wright leaving his baby (so to say) after nearly 9 years of script drafting and initial casting releases over creative differences) to the improving trailers and TV spots, I went into Ant-Man hesitant but anticipatory, and I left feeling rather pleased. Considering everything the project has been through, it still has an air of Wright’s comedic/directorial style and timing in several short quick-cut sequences. Comedy-wise, there’s a small audio gag, and the rest comes from conversational (perhaps even improvised) dialogue between Scott and his crew – Luis, for the most part – and it was a little hit and miss for me. Michael Douglas manages to squeeze in some amusing and snarky one-liners as the elder Pym, which is a delight. Visually, the macro-cinematography and growing/shrinking are very well-executed and lend believability to the weird science nature at the film’s core – even providing a better explanation for how Pym and Lang communicate with the ants – a modified hearing aid-like device that picks up brain waves.
What Ant-Man has going for it is, as I mentioned earlier, the heart. Scott doesn’t want to be the deadbeat ex-con dad and he tries to do right (even with some science and electrical engineering smarts), and Hank wants to protect his daughter, even though she continues to stubbornly insist she can take on the task. Darren Cross, the villain of the piece, seems like the familiar trope of a military industrial complex figure, but he’s got an ego that was stoked for years, and provides one of the more compelling antagonistic human portraits in the whole Marvel franchise, right up there with Obadiah Stane from Iron Man – an apt comparison.
However, Ant-Man isn’t without its problems. There’s a little diversity in the overall ensemble (apart from T.I., Pena, Wood Harris, and a MCU cameo I won’t dare spoil, the cast is white; sad to say that this is par for the course from Marvel, especially this far in to the overall franchise), and women are mostly nonexistent (Lilly, Greer, the brief mentions of Janet, and another cameo); the supporting trio of Luis, Dave, and Kurt seem more tropeish than fleshed-out characters, even if they each have their moments; Janet is Hank’s motivation for retiring and protecting Hope (a serious point of contention in the online fan community, especially Twitter and Tumblr) – but Hope may have her day in the sun yet; Maggie and Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) are mostly one-note with a teensy bit of fleshing out; and the film doesn’t do much to stand out in terms of directing style, cinematography (not counting the macro sequences), and scoring. It’s capable work at best from Reed, Russell Carpenter, and Christophe Beck, but maybe capable is what we get or deserve after Wright’s departure.
Still, Ant-Man was, in my mind, the second-most enjoyable (and most human) film of Marvel’s Phase 2 (behind Guardians of the Galaxy, of course) and not quite as tense and thrilling as Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It takes itself seriously enough and has some fun mostly removed from the MCU while managing to find the sweet spot, providing a mix of both action and comedy sure to delight those who have or haven’t heard of Pym, Lang, and Ant-Man. And it manages to lay a few planks (both blatant and implied) for Marvel’s Phase 3 train to keep rolling with Captain America: Civil War next May, but you’ll have to keep your eyes and ears peeled!
Ant-Man is in US theaters July 17th.