Let’s face it, for the uninitiated, Ant-Man is a pretty hard sell. Mired in production hell since 2008, with Edgar Wright, who was originally set to direct, leaving the project near the end and being replaced by Peyton Reed, I was skeptical that Marvel Studio’s latest foray would live up to the high standard set by their previous film. But, for a movie revolving around an industrial saboteur and a mad scientist who talks to ants, Ant-Man proves that the formula works, even if it feels a little safe.
We first meet our hero, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), fresh out of prison, only to learn that life is hard for an ex-con trying to do right by his kid. Unable to find work, Lang finds himself on the other side of the law, once again, when he breaks into the home of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and steals a mysterious suit. Upon discovering that suit is powered by “Pym Particles”, (which shrink matter, while increasing strength and density proportionately), Dr. Pym reveals that he was the one who planned the home invasion all along. You see, Dr. Pym needs Lang’s expertise to break into the headquarters of his old protégé/nefarious businessman Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who is developing a weaponized suit powered by his own version of Pym Particles (that also made him insane?). At the same time, Lang has to help Pym reconnect with the daughter he neglected for years, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who would rather take on the mission herself. Some plotting happens, there are lots of ants, and the team enters into a wild shootout with the crazed Cross, wielding the Yellowjacket suit.
The plot is a far cry from anything that Marvel has attempted before, coming across as equal parts superhero flick and heist movie. And it’s a decidedly fun combo. Where the film’s story suffers is from the themes it tries to present. Ant-Man draws a parallel of the father/daughter relationships between Scott and his daughter, Cassie, as well as the aforementioned connection between Hope and Hank. While Scott and Cassie’s story feels well developed, and is pretty touching (if a little cookie-cutter), the Pyms’ storyline feels far too rushed. With all of the antagonist feelings Hope has towards her father being solved at the midpoint of the movie, Lilly’s character is left in a kind of narrative limbo, shifting to a love interest for Rudd in what feels like an afterthought. My other major grievance with Ant-Man might be more indicative of Marvel Studios as a whole. Barring Douglas’ Pym (who is just stellar), most of the major cast feels like a copy/paste of previously successful superhero archetypes, with Lang as the charismatic, if snarky lead, Hope as typical icy warrior woman who never really gets a chance to shine, and Cross as yet another “I am a businessman and I am bad for some reason that doesn’t really merit how bad I am” villain. There’s nothing new and noteworthy about any of them (save for based Pym).
Narrative aggravation aside, Ant-Man is one of the most visually stunning films in recent memory. You wouldn’t expect a guy that the whole concept of shrinking would lead to such spectacular fight scenes, but Ant-Man certainly delivers. With combat sequences featuring seamless transitions between the shrunk down macrophotography (which is seriously one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a film) and always interesting choreography, Ant-Man hits all of the right notes. Hell, even the ants are a showstopper, and are incorporated far better than they have any right to be. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t sing the praises of the ending sequence, which is hands down, the most balls-to-the-wall trippiest thing to ever happen in a superhero movie.
All in all, Ant-Man is a visual marvel, but suffers from weak characterization all around. While you may say “It’s a summer blockbuster about a guy who talks to ants, does it matter?”, it makes one wonder about the path that Marvel Studios is forging. At what point will their beloved franchises devolve from superpowered slugfests to a quip-off? When will we see something different, something that really takes a chance? I don’t have the answer to that, but can only hope we’ll see it soon. Theories aside, Ant-Man is good clean fun, and another solid installment in Marvel’s cinematic library.