It’s been a long and hard road for Ant-Man on its way to the big screen. Originally, Shaun of The Dead and Scott Pilgrim VS The World director Edgar Wright was in charge of both directing the project, and also wrote the script with Attack The Block director Joe Cornish. Unfortunately, Wright and Marvel disagreed on the direction they wanted the film to take and Wright stepped down. When that news came out, it suddenly became very clear that Marvel films were the product of a committee of corporate decision makers and not the product of creative filmmakers. After Wright’s exit, Marvel hired Adam McKay to rewrite the original script along with Paul Rudd and a replacement director, Peyton Reed, was quickly hired. After all that behind the scenes drama, Ant-Man is finally released and we can see whether it manages to be creative, or if it’s just another victim of the Marvel formula.
Expert cat burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has just been released from jail, and his only goal is to re-connect with his young daughter. Unfortunately, his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and her new husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) refuse to allow Scott to see her until he gets his own life back together. Without a job, Scott turns back to thieving in order to make some cash, leading him to burglarise the house of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) a scientist who created a suit that has the power to shrink whoever wears it, while still giving them the strength of a normal-sized human. Pym used this suit in the past to become the superhero known as Ant-Man, and now he wants Scott to follow in his footsteps. With the help of Hank and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily), Scott will have to take on the mantle of Ant-Man in order to save the world from Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), Hank’s old protégé who intends to use the Pym’s technology to create his own shrinking suit, named Yellowjacket
What’s truly great about Ant-Man is that it’s not just a superhero film; it fits into a bunch of different genres. Like Guardians of The Galaxy, Ant-Man is a comedy, and rest assured, there are many laughs to be had here, especially from Michael Pena who serves as the primary comedic relief character, playing Scott’s old cellmate Luis. The film deftly balances its comedy and drama so that neither feels forced nor out of place. The movie also functions as a heist film, as a large portion of the plot involves breaking in to a secure facility. But perhaps most importantly, Ant-Man is a movie about family, more specifically the relationship between fathers and daughters. Scott’s desire to be involved in his daughter’s life is the central aspect of his character. He wants to be the hero his daughter sees him as and that’s what ultimately pushes him to become Ant-Man. Mirroring this is Hank’s attempt to salvage the broken relationship he has with Hope. I won’t spoil all the great back-story we get on Hank and his time as Ant-Man, but let’s just say that a great tragedy caused Hank to be a little overprotective of his daughter, which in turned made her pull away. Michael Douglas is brilliant as always here as he masterfully captures the emotion of a man who has sacrificed a lot to protect the world from his own wrong doings, and Evangeline Lily turns a character that could have easily been cold and annoying into a strong and capable individual. This is actually a really quiet film considering it’s a summer blockbuster. There really isn’t much action until the third act climax. The film instead uses the first two acts to build its characters so that you actually care when all the explosions happen, and I was pleasantly surprised by that and wish more summer films did this.
I really love how Marvel is casting their leading men. Two years ago, Chris Pratt was an unknown, chubby comedian, now he’s a full-fledged leading man who has starred in two of the highest grossing films of the past two years, all thanks to Marvel. This time around they got their hands on Paul Rudd who, like Pratt, has done mostly comedies and played slightly immature characters, and turned him into a genuine action hero. Rudd is impossibly likeable here and exhumes charisma in every scene he’s in. Of course, he is helped by the fact that the character he is playing is the most relatable hero Marvel has had in a movie so far. Scott Lang’s not a complete dick like Tony Stark, he’s not an almighty god like Thor and he’s not a morally unwavering boy-scout like Captain America, he’s just an average guy who wants to become a better person, but keeps screwing up. He’s the very definition of an everyman, the kind of hero we need more of.
Earlier, I mentioned that Marvel has a formula for making their films, as a lot of their movies share some big similarities. Thankfully, Ant-Man avoids falling into the more negative and repetitive parts of the formula. One of the benefits of Marvel building this expansive cinematic world is that they are now at a point where they can introduce superheroes that most average audience members aren’t too familiar with, Ant-Man being one of them. He’s a very different superhero than all the others we have seen, mainly because his set of powers is so unique, and the film has a lot of fun playing with that uniqueness. All the special effects are gorgeous, and the giant world that Scott experiences when he shrinks is beautifully designed and provides plenty of opportunity for sight gags. Scott also gets the ability to talk to ants, who function as his sidekicks and provide all kinds of support for him. Originality absolutely oozes from the film, especially when it comes to the fight scenes. I can honestly say that the final battle sequence is unlike anything I have ever seen in a film before, and completely ditches the traditional Marvel “fight in the sky” climax. What I also appreciated about Ant-Man in comparison to the other MCU films is that it doesn’t feel like it’s being forced into the larger Marvel universe except for one scene that was just blatant fan service and a couple of off-hand references to The Avengers. I didn’t have to play memory games to remember things from the past Marvel films in order to understand what was going on here.
Unfortunately, as much as Ant-Man deviates from Marvel’s formula, it does fall prey to the most repeated and poorly thought of aspect of the formula: A completely generic and forgettable villain. Corey Stoll is a great actor, but the character he’s playing here is one of the most lazily written villains I have ever seen in a movie. He’s initially presented as a typical corporate megalomaniac (just like every villain from the Iron Man movie) and quickly turns into a homicidal killer by the end, with very little explanation or motivation to justify the change. They just explain his evil away by saying his brain got altered by all his exposure to the Pym particles which makes no sense, because Hank spent just as much time with the particles and he’s not crazy like Stoll’s character. I understand that it’s more important to develop the hero than the villain, but in ignoring your villain, you make him just a faceless evil force that the hero has to destroy, and that’s not very interesting to watch. In a couple of weeks, I’ll remember that Corey Stoll was in Ant-Man, but I guarantee I won’t remember anything about his character, and that’s not a good thing.
This summer hasn’t exactly been full of amazing films, but Ant-Man restored my belief that it is possible to make a film that is both a big budget crowd pleaser and a smartly written story populated with characters you actually care about. Full of laughs, thrills and originality, Ant-Man proves that there still is so much that can be done with the superhero genre if only studios took more risks instead of reusing the same superheroes, plots and character archetypes we have seen countless times before. Ant-Man was a risk that paid off, and I couldn’t be happier.
Note: This is a Marvel movie, so stay tuned during the credits for two extra scenes, one of which made me VERY excited for Ant-Man 2.
Final Grade: 8.5/10