Marvel Studios Ant-Man has finally released in theaters and, not surprisingly, has turned out to be a much better film than most expected. Reminding viewers of the similar, lesser known team movie Guardians of the Galaxy last summer, Ant-Man is an impressive accomplishment. Given its troubled production history, it’s astonishing to see Marvel premiere such a character on the big screen. (See what I did there? “Astonishing”, “Marvel premiere”?) As a fan, the Peyton Reed directed film was one I have been eagerly looking forward to and I had the opportunity to see it early yesterday. And not surprisingly, I was not let down.
Marvel’s tiniest super-hero, despite being small in stature and in fandom, provides a mighty fun time at the theater. While Ant-Man isn’t the most fully thought out of film entries in the M.C.U. (such as Captain America: The Winter Soldier), it’s easily the most stand-alone film since 2008’s Iron Man. This is where Ant-Man works and is a delight to watch. The film opens with a de-aged Michael Douglas as Hank Pym. He’s leaving S.H.I.E.L.D. and is adamant that his technology does not fall into the wrong hands, nor should his revolutionary “Pym Particles” be weaponized. We get to see a bit of a power struggle between Pym and John Slattery (Mad Men), reprising his role as Howard Stark from Iron Man 2. Possibly the most exciting element of the 1989 flashback is Hayley Atwell, reprising her much beloved role as Agent Carter. She’s a little older, but still equally as wise. After Pym slams a particular member of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s head against a table, it’s clear that his time with the agency and work as a scientist/spy is over. Oh, and we get our first reference to Janet Van Dyne, his wife and Marvel super-hero, The Wasp.
Ant-Man doesn’t spend too much time set in the past. Outside of an additional flashback sequence that provides half fan service and half as a means to setting up a plot device near the end, the film takes places some time after the events of May’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. But, outside of taking place within the same world as the rest of the MCU, Ant-Man is rather concerned with being its own thing than playing as an extension of the previous entries. It’s this particular element of the Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish story, with additional writers Adam McKay and Paul Rudd, that we begin to have a sense of the often cited “creative differences” Wright had when he walked away from his passion project. It’s no secret that director and writer Edgar Wright, best known for Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, left the project after Marvel wanted a film more closely in line with the films they’ve already established as Phase One and Phase Two. It was sad for many fans and for many involved with the film to see Wright leave, especially considering his attachment to the project since 2006. Having left the project in a mini state of confusion, Peyton Reed (Bring It On, The Break Up, Yes Man) soon came aboard and helped steer the ship away from the impending iceberg. Creating a film more closely in line with previous entries such as The Avengers and Iron Man, Ant-Man opened July 17th and can be seen more as a team-player.
Ant-Man primarily is a heist film and has the tone of a Saturday afternoon film that one might easily have caught during the 70’s. It has its own tone and feels less like a big super-hero movie and more like a smaller indie project. Most likely due to the environment created on set and helped by the Adam McKay and Paul Rudd rewrites, Ant-Man has the seriousness but witty tone of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man. It really works, but it’s because of this very reason that some of the bigger moments of the film feel disjointed. Out of fear that his protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), is taking Pym Technologies in the wrong direction and that his tech will fall into the wrong hands, Pym sets up a plan to steak back his company and creations. He’s long vowed never to be the Ant-Man again and out of love for his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), he cannot allow her to don the costume. So Pym needs someone “expendable” and who does he court? A former systems engineer and petty criminal named Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who happens to be the second Ant-Man in Marvel canon. Lang, a father himself, needs that second chance and a shot at redemption to prove that he’s the hero his daughter thinks he is and the one his ex-wife (Judy Greer) and current husband, Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) believe him not to be. Scott Lang becomes the Ant-Man and sets out to save Pym’s company and save the world.
Ant-Man is largely a film about how a dysfunctional family saves the world and life as we know it. It’s a wildly entertaining film, propelled by a rather straight forward plot. We have a classic villain in Darren Cross, who while reminiscent of Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane, is not quite as dynamic if it weren’t for the over the top reminders that he’s a bad guy. Corey Stoll, a rising and proven talent, plays Cross deliciously evil and never comes across as a comic-book menace despite being, well, a menace of comic-book proportions. He reduces a compatriot to nothing more than a literal glob of goo, repeatedly does the same to an innocent lamb, and has plans to sell his corrupted version of Pym’s Ant-Man, which he’s renamed Yellowjacket, to rather unsavory people. For those paying attention, it’s Hydra and members of The Ten Rings that resurface in this picture, thus providing a quick Easter Egg to eagle eyed fans. Darren Cross, while not the best villain the MCU has seen, is admittedly better than last year’s Ronan (Lee Pace) in Guardians of the Galaxy, if only due to more screen time and a chance to do more than be a mere presence. Stoll definitely brings Darth Vader to Ant-Man and is exceedingly good at it.
As for the “dysfunctional family saves the world and life as we know it” line, Hank Pym, Hope Van Dyne, and Scott Lang chiefly and superbly provide the dysfunctional family aspect. Pym, long estranged from his daughter, Hope, as she blames him for the death of her mother wants to become the Ant-Man and can’t see past her own grudge against her father. Pym, long retired from a life of adventure, is that of a man haunted by his past and looking to atone for his sins. It’s the perfect role for Michael Douglas and never does he betray the character or the film. A true professional, every scene he’s in contains the expected level of nuance and pathos that you’d expect Douglas to deliver in any other film. “I looked at it as having to carry a fair amount of exposition. Hank in this picture was predominantly responsible for explaining a lot of plot parts and exposition. I’ve kind of gotten used to that. I think ever since ‘Wall Street,” when it comes to a lot of dialogue, they turn to Mikey. (laughs) I enjoyed it. I enjoyed also the humor. There wassort of a twinkle in his eye andsort of a dry sense of humor. Peyton and Paul really developed the script with probably more humor than any of the Marvel pictures, really.” (Wall Street Journal Blogs –Michael Douglas on Making ‘Ant-Man’: ‘I Just Found It Fascinating’ by Michael Calia)
Evangeline Lilly is massively remarkable as Hope and if it wasn’t for such a great performance on her end, the character would come across more as a throwaway role. Many have criticized Marvel for not presenting enough of a spotlight on their female heroes, especially when they have such characters as Black Widow and Carol Danvers a.k.a. Captain Marvel. While Hope Van Dyne doesn’t suit up, much to the disappointment of many fans (and myself) she is a fully realized character with an important arc in this story. Arguably, it’s Lilly’s performance as Hope that propels the mid-credit scene and demands a follow-up, guest appearance, or solo film sometime in the near future. Lilly, best known for Kate on Lost and Tauriel in The Hobbit Trilogy, is no stranger to action. She’s believable and is amazingly lithe and muscular, which only adds to the setup with no true payoff of seeing her become The Wasp. However, Lilly does get an after credit scene that plays at the very end of the film. It’s a HOPEful setup which has Lilly adding “I don’t really like multi-picture deals. I always feel nervous about what if my life plans change, what if I don’t want to do it. On the flip side, I love the Avengers films. They’re so cool. And I thought, ‘Yeah, but how cool would it be to be in an Avengers film?!’ That is a motivating factor.” (USA Today – ‘No-nonsense’ Lilly blooms with ‘Ant-Man’ by Brian Truitt)
The majority of the film does rely on Paul Rudd’s ability to carry a super-hero picture on his shoulders. While Ant-Man is more of a team film such as Ocean’s 11 and Mission: Impossible, Rudd does have the film hinging on whether or not he could bring his trademark qualities to a character most would agree is a positively C-list character. What Rudd accomplishes is not unlike what Robert Downey Jr has done for Tony Stark and Chris Pratt for Star-Lord, but just not as striking. While I adore Paul Rudd and love his turn as Scott Lang/Ant-Man, it’s hard imagining many leaving the theater as impressed with his take on a hero as people were with Pratt last August. It’s not so much a critique on him as an actor, but more of a reflection of the subtlety of the competing ideas in the shooting script. We have a film built on the foundation of Edgar Wright’s signature style, but with a more Marvel Studios filter on it. Several scenes range from being refreshingly different – Michael Pena’s Luis narrates two sequences that hilariously illustrate the comedic element of the film and offer a nice tip of the hat to classic heist films; Lang exploring the world of ants in a very Honey, I Shrunk The Kids kind of way, and a fight scene featuring The Cure’s “Disintegration.” But, for some of the larger sequences, such as Ant-Man infiltrating the New Avengers base in Upstate, NY – while it’s fun, it does feels forced by some of the bigger hands at Marvel. Ant-Man is fun and should be loved for some of the flaws. It’s not perfect, but for a film having such a troubled past, it’s rather impressive that the film was finally made and works so well.
Paul Rudd does bring a wonderful quality to Scott Lang despite his unsavory past. Through a back story, it’s revealed that Lang stole from a company that was stealing from the people. It provides enough of a reason to make Lang’s petty thief not as completely unsavory as Edgar Wright’s original intention to have Lang as a con man. Through his humor, light sarcasm, and earnestness, much credit needs to be given to Rudd for making Scott Lang/Ant-Man the Charlie Brown of Marvel super-heroes. You can’t help but not root for him. Especially when he’s traversing underground ant colonies and interacting with a fleet of ants, one of which he names ANTony. Through a mixture of the state of the art macro photography and CGI, the shrinking and sub world has a seamless fluidity to it.
As a fan of the character, Ant-Man has been a film I’ve eagerly awaited well before the first trailer made it’s debut during Agent Carter. While I was not let down by the Paul Rudd film, I do have to mention that the film has an odd feel to it. The Peyton Reed directed film largely belongs in the time before the Marvel Cinematic Universe and feels as if it should have released some time near the 2000 X-Men or 2002 Spider-Man. For those that enjoyed and know those two super-hero movies, if you see Ant-Man you will not be disappointed. Ant-Man works well as fitting more closely in line with the earlier Marvel movies that were disconnected from one another. It’s no surprise as the framework for this movie was made well before the formation of the Phase One and Two of the MCU as we now know it. I must recommend Ant-Man and it needs to be said that it’s easily one of the more family friendly of movies this summer; significantly more than Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man is a fun picture to watch.
Please make sure to stay through the credits as Ant-Man has 2 after credit scenes. One, featuring Douglas and Lilly, plays mid credits while the second plays at the very end and serves as a set-up for Captain America: Civil War.
As promised, Ant-Man Will Return! Paul Rudd’s hero will be seen in next May’s Captain America: Civil War. Hopefully, Wasp will too!
And here’s a few additional pointers you may want to consider when viewing Ant-Man, courtesy of Marvel Studios President, Kevin Feige.
- How Ant-Man ties directly to Doctor Strange“The end of Ant-Man is just the beginning of [what we can expect from Doctor Strange]. In fact, that’s why we put Ant-Man at the end of Phase Two as opposed to the beginning of Phase Three, because it sets up a lot of the things you’re going to see heading into Phase Three, one of which is this mind-bending, reality-altering landscape.”
- Can they fit Ant-Man 2 in before 2020?Answer: Yes“The slate is pretty set and solidified and we’re working towards all the things we’ve announced, but we love to bob and weave – and where opportunities arise, we love to do cool stuff.”
- But will they?Answer: Maybe“Spider-Man was not a part of what we announced in October, and now it is, so we remain open to adding additional things.”
- Do they have a story for Ant-Man 2 yet?Answer: Yes“We have what I think is a supercool idea for the next Ant-Man film, and if audiences want it, we’ll find a place to do it.”
- Okay, but will we see Ant-Man and Wasp together in the near future?Answer: Yes“That would be awesome – yeah, I’d love that. I love the dynamic of Ant-Man and Wasp, and I’m sure we’ll see various versions of it in the future.”
- Will Ant-Man and Wasp show up together in Captain America: Civil War?“No, we’ve announced all of the characters that will be in that movie, for the most part. But we do have plans for [Wasp] both if we’re able to make another Ant-Man film and in additional cinematic-universe films.” (Note: Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man will appear in Civil War in an unspecified role.)
Ant-Man gets four stars and is in theaters now.