Directed by Peyton Reed
Starring Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, and Evangeline Lilly
With a talking raccoon and now Ant-Man, Marvel is just showing off with how they can make us care about anything. The wisest move in this case was probably focusing on the second Ant-Man, Scott Lang (played by Rudd). Scott Lang is a down-on-his-luck ex-con with a Robin Hood flair and a sarcastic wit who finds himself recruited by an aging scientist for the heist of a lifetime, with some new-found abilities that are no joke, except when they are.
Rudd’s portrayal of Scott Lang makes this film, as his portrayal is lovable and laughable as the audience really feels for this guy who really just wants to be with his daughter and make her proud. It’s really adorable but never too much to cause sweetness overload.
Rudd is teamed with a decent cast to bounce off of. Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym is an enjoyable mentor character as we get to laugh at all the torturous exercises he puts Rudd’s Lang through. Lang’s criminal compadres also help add some useful levity when Rudd is in a more serious superheroic mode. Evangeline Lilly’s role as Hope, Pym’s daughter, serves as a unwilling partner to Rudd’s Lang, but unfortunately she feels rushed into some emotional scenes just to move the story along and doesn’t develop her role in the film and relationship with Lang as naturally as I’d prefer.
If we want to talk about the best supporting cast of the film though, we’re going to have to look closer to the ground. The ants in this film are simply fantastic. The CGI work to create them does a fantastic job bringing to life these different and unique species with unique personalities. Some ants are grumpy and ready to attack. Some are helpful and link together to make useful shapes. Some become as endearing as a pet dog to a characters and the audience.
The CGI work on the ants and the shrinking scenes in general are stunning. The visual warping in the shrinking scenes and the perspective of scale actually serve to make 3-D viewing worthwhile for that additional depth.
As fun as this film may be though, it’s got issues. Marvel’s film villains are hit or miss, and this is a miss. Scientist and Pym student Darren Cross (played by Corey Stoll) is set on discovering the secret of Pym’s shrinking technology, and then turning that around to sell to the highest bidder. The film tries to portray Cross as actually crazy, but it never sells it. Instead the character just comes across as a greedy asshole out for a buck. There is a real opportunity here for Cross to be emotionally wrecked by his former mentor Pym choosing this ex-con wise guy Lang to be his successor instead of himself, but the film completely drops that ball.
On top of that, there are logical holes that leave the audience questioning the reasoning of the characters. It’s not a good thing for your audience to pause themselves mid movie trying to make sense when there’s no pay off. For an easy example, everyone is obsessed with the shrinking powers, but none of the antagonists pay any attention to the ant-controlling powers. And they call themselves ant-agonists!
Unfortunately there are so many occasions like this that really bog the film down. At the same time, the film rushes through training scenes and character introductions that it really loses any sense of time. And while Pym constantly reminds us that his shrinking ability falling into the wrong hands could be catastrophic, we never get a real sense of danger or urgency to show why we should care.
This film also spends a lot of time cementing itself into the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I go back and forth on if that’s a good thing or not. In some cases, moments like these pull you out of the experience because you’re busy thinking of the other film, but then the scene is well executed and pulls you back in for a great time. In terms of world building for the MCU, I bet this isn’t just a fluff piece.
In the end though, it’s not what’s being stolen or what the bad guy is planning or even what the Avengers have to do with this that we care about. It’s Scott Lang. Paul Rudd drives this movie. Rudd has a writing credit on this film, and that most likely lead to Langs well-polished jokes and characterization. And it pays off. Rudd makes this movie fun.
Marvel movies are really good at being more than just superhero flicks. Iron Man, particularly 3, is character growth of a man trying to make something of his life. The Thor films are fantasy adventures that honestly need to lean more into fantasy. Guardians of the Galaxy is a space opera, really space rock opera. Cap 1 was a period serial adventure, while Cap 2 was a political thriller. With Ant-Man, we have a fun heist flick. Its flaws keep this film from being in the top tier of Marvel’s cinematic offerings, but it’s still a fun ride.