Editor’s Notes: Ant-Man is currently out in wide theatrical release. For another perspective on the film read Ant-Man: Formulaic, Sanitized, Homogenized Corporate Product by Mel Valentin
Love it or hate it, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is doing something unprecedented in the history of film: making an inter-connected series of films with stand-alone and team films that all build on each other making each subsequent film in the series a sequel or spin-off from the last one, using information from all prior films and giving clues to the direction of the next few. The MCU also has a penchant for attracting A-list talent and a surprising number of Oscar nominees and winners (12 nominees and 7 winners by my count) making them all inherently top-notch even when the stories and execution of some are less than good (looking at you Iron Man 2). It’s quite an impressive feat to inter-lock all of these films (12 and counting) while still making them all more entertaining than they have any right to be by infusing a great deal of humor amongst the necessary exposition and action.
Ant-Man, like last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy has more than its fair share of comedy.
Ant-Man, like last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy has more than its fair share of comedy. With a story and initial script penned by writer/director Edgar Wright (who was on to direct before departing the picture over creative differences) and Joe Carnahan and a final script by comedy writer/director Adam McKay and the film’s star/renowned comedy actor Paul Rudd, it was nearly impossible for this film not to be almost more comedy than action and that’s exactly what happened to great effect. The script kept the focus on the characters, leaving the gravely serious parts about saving the world more of a McGuffin and a backdrop than the primary concern.
The story is essentially that of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas in his most vibrant performance in years, since perhaps WonderBoys 15 years ago), a ‘super-scientist’ (in the parlance of The Venture Bros.) who invented/discovered the Pym Particle, a particle that can shrink objects and people down to the size of a molecule (if unregulated). He developed a suit that could harness this particle and became Ant-Man for S.H.I.E.L.D. back before the Avengers were even a thought. He walked away in 1989 and started his own company to protect his formula for the creation of the Pym Particle, fearing that if it was mass-produced it would spell certain doom for the world.
Director Payton Reed, known more for romantic comedies, does the script great service here. He wouldn’t have been my first choice, but he lived up to the material.
Flash forward to now and Pym has been forcibly retired by his board, led by his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and his protégé Dr. Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Cross has developed a version of the Pym Particle and hopes to sell it to S.H.I.E.L.D or the military (or Hydra) and militarize it. Trouble is, he can only shrink non-biological material, making his Yellowjacket suit useless. He needs Pym and his particle to make everything work and if Hank won’t give it to him, he plans to take it.
While this is going on, we’re introduced to Scott Lang (Rudd), a burglar just getting out of prison after stealing from a 1%er and making a name for himself. He’s picked up by his best friend Luis (Harold Pena), a low-level crook with high-class tastes (wine tastings, art gallery openings, etc.) who always has a way of looking at the bright side of things. He tries to enlist Scott in a theft but Scott declines and wants to go straight for his daughter and possibly patch things up with his ex-wife. Eventually talked into the heist, he breaks into Pym’s house with Luis and his compatriots Kurt (David Dastmalchain) and Dave (T.I.). Pym knew the whole time his house was being broken into, in fact he arranged it so Scott could get the suit and try it out. Pym knew of Scott and needs him to use the suit to steal the Yellowjacket suit and prevent Cross from perfecting the Pym particle and selling it.
This sets up not only some clever action sequences featuring ants and Scott’s shifting size and a great small scale battle between Scott as Ant-Man and Cross as Yellowjacket, but some great humor as well. Rudd is obviously up to the task but so is Douglas with Lilly playing more the straight character (though she has her moments too). Pena is the funniest, which is kind of surprising considering his usual heavy roles. He proves his versatility here and is glorious as he does so. Everyone in the cast turns in wonderful performances and it’s clear that everyone had a blast working on this picture.
Director Payton Reed, known more for romantic comedies, does the script great service here. He wouldn’t have been my first choice (nor was he Marvel’s, as stated, the original director was slated to be Edgar Wright and could possibly have been even better in his hands) but he lived up to the material. There was a lot of expectation to live up to considering he replaced a sci-fi comedy fan favorite but Reed kept the tone light and airy, like James Gunn did for Guardians of the Galaxy and in large part what Joss Whedon did for The Avengers. He doesn’t make light of the serious moments, though. There are a few touching moments, most notably between Hank and Hope that Reed handles with great delicacy.
As much fun as this film is, it needs to be said that this is just one stone in the path to the current end of the MCU which will culminate with The Avengers: Infinity War Part II and Inhumans in 2019. Rudd is slated for at least an appearance in next year’s Captain America: Civil War and Ant-Man was in the Avengers at or near the start in the comics, so expect him to be a member of the team soon, which will be a lot of fun to see Scott interact with the other team members.
Ant-Man stands on its own, though without much interaction with the MCU at large (except a sequence where Scott fights Anthony Mackie’s Falcon at the new Avengers HQ) and therefore won’t leave the 20-30 people who haven’t seen much if any of the other films in the dark. It’s funny, exciting and sets up a character that will be fun to see in the future in the other MCU films and hopefully in his own series.
Ant-Man is funny, exciting and sets up a character that will be fun to see in the future in the other MCU films and hopefully in his own series.