Ant-Man Review

(3.5 STARS)

In Marvel’s Ant-Man, the wise father figure character informs our hero that the world of the quantum is totally unknown by man. Its real-life equivalent, then, might be Ant-Man‘s pre-production story.

The great Edgar Wright wrote a screenplay for Marvel’s smallest superhero alongside Attack the Block‘s Joe Cornish. Wright was also attached to direct, so most Marvel skeptics like me nevertheless has this film’s release date circled on their calendars long ago. But Wright left the project abruptly, and a handful of other directors (including Anchorman‘s Adam McKay, who also gets a screenwriting credit) passed until Peyton Reed of Yes Man (ugh) and The Break Up (ughhhhhhh) finally settled in to direct the troubled production.

None of this pointed to a successful film, but to say Ant-Man defies expectations is the understatement of the film year so far. This is the best Marvel movie to date, and it’s not particularly close. It’s everything a superhero origin story should be, as well as a lot of things none before it had the guts to be. It’s told from a unique perspective, its stakes are easy to grasp, and its humor is both good-natured and surprisingly sharp. Look, this isn’t a game-changing movie by any standard, but it’s wildly entertaining and so, so refreshing.

Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, an infamous, Robin-Hood-esque burglar who we meet just as he’s finishing a several-year stint in San Quentin. Though he’s determined not to go back to prison so that he can reconnect with his young daughter, Lang struggles to find work and eventually agrees to help his roommate Luis (Michael Peña) pilfer through a vacationing old man’s safe.

None of them knows that the old man in question is Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a brilliant scientist who discovered a particle that can shrink organic matter years ago. But the particle somehow led to the death of his wife, so he keeps it a secret from everyone, including his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), and his eager protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Forced out of his company’s daily operations, Hank is frightened to discover just how close Cross has gotten to unlocking the secret to the Pym Particle. He wants to sell it to the highest bidder, presumably a weapons manufacturer who will create an army of “Yellow Jackets,” but with Hope working as a spy, he develops a plan to steal Cross’ work. And Lang, a guy with nothing to lose and an uncanny ability to steal anything, is the perfect guy to don his old “Ant-Man” suit.

Ant-Man‘s closest Marvel brother is Iron Man, in which a man who developed a groundbreaking yet dangerous technology attempts to shield it from his greedy, power-hungry partner. It’s fine to crib from similar and successful film, as long as the film doing the cribbing can still carve out some space for itself. The James Bond franchise does this all the time with varying degrees of success. Ant-Man is ultimately going for something smaller and slicker than Iron Man. Its climactic action sequence isn’t world-leveling; It’s bedroom-leveling. Its comedy is mostly visual and relates to its hero’s powers. Its script does have some characterization issues—it can’t seem to decide if Lang is a reluctant thief or the next coming of Danny Ocean—but for the most part, it’s a strongly written film, and it definitely moves at a nice clip.

Visually, the film is mostly uninspired—#Marvel—but it does a few things that piqued my interest. Michael Peña, who’s terrific, tries to relay important information to Lang and can’t help but digress. The camera follows his gossipy details very amusingly. Then, there’s the film’s climactic action that recalls Luc Besson’s Lucy, among other visually challenging films. It doesn’t go there for long, but that it even does is very fresh for the studio.

Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas give very solid performances, even if they don’t much stretch their wings. Corey Stoll is one of the studio’s better villains—not saying much, but still. And the film’s connections to the greater MCU are relegated almost exclusively to Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, a character I wouldn’t mind seeing a lot more of.

Ultimately, Mad Max: Fury Road is an obviously better film in just about every way. Ditto Inside Out. But when it comes to pure-hearted, mindless entertainment, this is the movie of the summer. Keep your dinos. I ride with the ants.

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