Plot: When his top secret technology is threatened to fall into the wrong hands, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) recruits thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) for a world-saving heist.
Perception is everything when it comes to film promotion. The entire purpose of trailers and advertisements is so the public can perceive that the movie in question is good enough for your money. Most films have a hard enough time doing this already. Marvel’s Ant-Man? This came up to the gate at a distinct disadvantage. After languishing as an Edgar Wright lead idea for several years, Ant-Man was finally put on Marvel’s official line-up. The test footage looked cool, casting began which brought on Paul Rudd, and everything seemed good for this next ambitious project. Then Wright got the boot, which Joss Whedon openly disapproved, several actors jumped off the project, and Peyton Reed (of Yes Man and The Break-Up “fame”) was brought on to save a seemingly sinking ship. So before we saw any actual film footage, people had already chalked this movie up as Marvel’s first big failure.
It’s likely that an MCU film will eventually bomb. Right now, all the “bad” films are simply “not as good” as others. With Ant-Man though, that day has not come. Despite a horrid development cycle that made this look like a fool’s errand, Ant-Man is actually a very good movie. I mean, just getting this movie in theaters is an accomplishment that everyone involved should be proud of. Turning it into a charmingly hilarious story filled with plenty of action and visually impressive CGI? That’s basically a miracle. Ant-Man was somehow turned from a possible pile of garbage into…not quite gold, but a level close. Maybe silver. It’s a film that has its flaws and I wouldn’t consider it my favorite of them all, but it is definitely very enjoyable.
Right of the bat, the biggest grab of this film is easily Rudd. Whoever plucked him out to play Scott Lang definitely either learned from, or was the very same, person who picked Chris Pratt for Peter Quill. It was a choice that left people confused at the beginning, but when you see him in action, it’s clear that no one else but Rudd could have pulled this off. He works his trademark charm like a master and effortlessly delivers so much of this film’s comedy. He’s also a master of affability which comes in handy when you’re a superhero with a name as crazy as Ant-Man. I can’t wait to see what Rudd can do when he’s paired up with the rest of Marvel’s big names.
The rest of the cast is great too, with the big standouts being Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, and Michael Peña. Peña was admittedly a surprise for me. He’s been in a lot of stuff lately and people seemingly love him, but I can’t readily remember actually seeing him in anything I’ve watched. Ant-Man really gave him a lot of work with Rudd and their banter was definitely a great highlight. Even more so than Lang, Peña’s Luis was simply that every man who is just really excited to be part of this extraordinary world. Douglas and Lilly were excellent picks to play Hank Pym and his daughter Hope van Dyne as well. I remember being a bit confused at how an elder Pym would work in this world but clearly that concern was for nothing. How he was weaved into the story made perfect sense. I would have loved for Hope to do more because clearly she had a ton of potential, but it’s also made apparent that this won’t be the last time we see her so I have no problem waiting a bit.
I will say, however, that the fractured familial relationship between Pym and van Dyne needed some work. Why exactly Lang was picked over van Dyne is made very clear during the movie, and I’m glad it was because it was pretty confusing otherwise, but learning about it felt too sudden. We actively see van Dyne loathing her father for a good chunk of the movie and then it’s quickly washed away with a fairly easy explanation. For a hate that spent decades taking root, it was all too easy for it to completely dissipate.
Corey Stoll did well enough as the main villain Darren Cross. When it was first announced that he would be playing Yellowjacket, who is actually one of Pym’s many identities in the comics, I got a bit confused. Then I realized that the identity doesn’t matter and I should go into this interested in seeing a new take on this longstanding Marvel name. That’s really what we got here, honestly. Stoll sold Cross’s blatant megalomania and the explanation that Pym particle experimentation was why he was so drunk on power actually made sense in context. It really did push the notion of why Pym’s technology is exceptionally dangerous in the wrong hands. However, with all the times characters mentioned how nice Cross was as Pym’s assistant, I found myself wishing I could have seen that directly. The man comes on as pure evil from the start, and obviously had his reasons for being that way which we never see. Perhaps if a little more time was spent on that, we would have received a more nuanced portrayal.
Save for a few moments where it looked really fake, the special effects for this movie were very top-notch. The microscopic (and eventually subatomic) world that Lang explored while small looked awesome. The ants especially looked great which isn’t something I expected to say. You find yourself caring for those little buggers, and the film doesn’t cut corners when detailing why a superhero who can control ants is a real force. My favorite, and I’m sure many people will agree with me, was Antony. This also leads to some impressive choreography. Even though Lang spent a lot of his fights changing in size to beat his enemies, you never lost focus on what was happening. There was absolutely no confusion. Having the climactic final battle occur in a child’s bedroom was a great touch too. It all looked dangerous to Lang and Cross while shrunk, but to everyone else, it was just tiny blue lasers and toy train derailment.
Now, if I’m being honest, I don’t have enough Edgar Wright knowledge to pick out all his influence in the script. Peyton Reed made a point to say that they did everything in their power to keep Wright’s original script intact. Where I did see a Wright touch however was when The Cure’s “Disintegration” began playing while Lang and Cross fought. This reminded me so much of the bar fight scene in Shaun of the Dead where Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” played on the jukebox. It was that nice added element that already made a cool scene that much better.
I had been excited for Ant-Man since the moment it was announced. Even though the highly publicized shake-ups had me worried, there was always a part of me that knew Marvel could pull this off. And pull it off they did! Clocking in at just shy of two hours, Ant-Man is one comedic ride that knows exactly what it’s doing. It does a great job showing why Ant-Man and Pym matter to the MCU, and the majority of the cast really nails their roles regardless of screen time. Even Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Hayley Atwell, and John Slattery get some nice moments with what little opportunity they had. There’s even a few cameos here that made me more excited for the MCU’s future than everything that Age of Ultron threw at me. Eventually, the MCU will deliver a real stinker of a film, but it is not this day.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.