by: S. Scott Stanikmas
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been getting bigger and bigger with each subsequent installment. And with these growths come stories that raise the stakes just as much. With the last film, Avengers: Age Of Ultron, we had no less than the fate of all mankind hanging in the balance – but it didn’t feel right for some reason. It felt forced and not natural.
Which is why a film like Ant-Man is a welcome distraction to all the hubbub that will eventually engulf the MCU. This is a film that doesn’t focus on worldwide destruction or armies of killer robots. Instead we get a story about fathers and daughters and how a second chance in life can really turn things around.
Marvel decided to focus on a later incarnation of the Ant-Man character, giving the nod in this film to Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Lang, fresh from a stint in prison, is finding out just how hard it is to get a fair shake on the outside. Upset at not being able to see his daughter Cassie, thanks to his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and her new police officer husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), the former burglar gets caught up in a robbery that could set him with the easy life up for a while.
The robbery turns out to be a bust, with the score being a “motorcylce suit” and helmet. Lang and his team – former cellmate Luis (Michael Pena), wheelman Dave (Tip “T.I.” Harris) and tech guy Kurt (David Dastmalchian) –
head home dejected and penniless. Trying on the suit, Scott finds out it’s more than he bargained for, as he shrinks to the size of…well, an ant. Getting thoroughly freaked out by his experience, Lang returns the suit, only to get arrested at the scene of the crime.
Meanwhile, interspersed between these going-ons we see an older Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), creator of the Pym Particle, which allows it’s user to shrink and grow at will, as he visits the company he once used to run. Now being headed by his former protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) and seconded by Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Pym Tech is on the verge of a breakthrough – insect-sized soldiers he calls Yellowjackets. All Cross needs to
do is perfect the shrinking process and he’s in the money.
Hank knows what this means for the world, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to stop Cross from completing his research and creating an army of Yellowjackets. Even if that means recruiting an unlikely ally in
the form of one expert cat burglar who would do anything for a second chance in life.
A lot has been said about this movie surrounding the departure of original writer / director Edgar Wright and writer Joe Cornish. Whatever the case may be, Paul Rudd and Adam McKay adding to the script and Peyton
Reed’s direction was spot on. The script had some real funny one-liners and great heartfelt story as well. It was funny without being too goofy and emotional without being too sappy. I’d call it just a step below Guardians of the Galaxy in terms of emotional resonance.
Paul Rudd really steps up here. He’s slowly been working his way up to a film like this for years. While proving himself in comedies all over the place, Ant-Man allows the actor to share the screen with a multitude of talent, calling for a little bit of everything. He has the drama beats down pat, plays sympathetic one minute and class clown the next, and has some excellent knock-down, drag-out fights with not only Yellowjacket but a cameoing (and card-carrying) Avenger.
Michael Douglas plays great as the veteran passing the torch to the next generation. Knowing how to pull at the heartstrings, he makes you feel for the aging scientist. Evangeline Lilly was a little cold and distant for my liking. She seemed a little wooden at times, but seemed to warm up by the film’s conclusion. Corey Stoll was a crowd pleaser as the villain who didn’t think he was. His character of Darren Cross may have come across as evil to some, but I saw him as someone whose ethics and morals were just a little grayer than everyone else.
Stealing the show however were Pena, Harris and Dastmalchian. Anytime these three were on screen was a pleasure. They had comedic timing and great delivery. It’s too bad this was a Marvel Studios film, because a
crossover between Ant-Man and Deadpool would have crowds laughing until they couldn’t breathe.
Much like its titular hero, this was a film told on a much smaller scale in terms of stakes. While the Yellowjacket armor and Pym Particles getting into the wrong hands is bad for the world, the story told was more personal. Thanks in no small part to the underlying themes of what fathers will do to protect their kids and (as Pym puts it) “earn that look in their eyes” that tells them they’re a hero.
Ant-Man did a good job of paving the road ahead for the Marvel Cinematic Universe without getting bogged down in continuity. Where Age Of Ultron felt more like tying together loose ends from previous films while setting up the future solo films of it’s bigger stars, Ant-Man shows us the change in feeling towards heroes with just a few choice lines from Hank Pym. Those comments, along with a bumper scene at the end of the credits lifted directly form the next MCU film, Captain America: Civil War, show us what could be some decidedly dark times ahead. But Ant-Man still manages a somewhat optimistic view at superheroics while telling its own story. It used the continuity of the films that came before it as a hand-up, not a hindrance.
While not as good as previous Phase Two outings like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man was still head and shoulders above everything else Marvel Studios did post-Avengers. Films like this prove that you can be small in stature and still provide excitement that’s larger than life.