This entry in our #RoadToInfinityWar series takes us to some surprising places. With development that began in the earliest plannings of what we now call the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man is a film centers on a character that should be immediately familiar to anyone versed in even the most basic comics lore of the Avengers. A founding member, there are countless stories of Hank Pym and his utilization of suit and tech that allows him the ability to manipulate the distance between atoms…and to communicate with and lead ants. Because, really, why not? His tech has allowed him many forms and abilities over the years, but it’s safe to say that he and his companion, the Wasp, are incredibly important to the history of the Avengers.
Looking back over the development of this film and leading up to the original Avengers film, I began to think Ant-Man would never happen. Many times, I was almost right. Developed by the incredibly talented writer-director, Edgar Wright, his plans for the film were likely to be incredible and unique. For whatever reason, we’ll never get to see his full vision, as he exited the project. Peyton Reed was brought on as director, and he had an unenviable task of completing another director’s vision. Overall, I would say that he was wildly successful, given those circumstances.
I mentioned Pym, but in this film, we really get a different take on the character that came much later in comics continuity. Rest easy that Hank Pym is here, played with a welcome presence to the MCU by Michael Douglas, but instead of suiting him up, Ant-Man is actually Scott Lang here. Paul Rudd plays him, recently released from jail after going to prison for pulling a “Robin Hood” burglary on an exploitative corporation some time ago, and for any familiar with Rudd’s comedy background, we know to expect a light nature here overall. It’s that tone that helps bring about the film’s success, overall. Especially after several darker entries in the MCU, Ant-Man came along with an infectious sense of fun. Calling it a palate cleanser doesn’t seem flattering, but it really does function that way for the darkness of Phase Two.
Here, Pym enlists Lang, fresh out of prison, to help him and his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), infiltrate the company he founded and stop the furthering of his life’s work. The company is now run by Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who is intent on replicating Pym’s technology for nefarious ends. The problem is Lang has no intention of going back to jail and is trying to stay free of trouble, as he has a young daughter, Cassie, and he doesn’t want to endanger being able to be there for her. Of course, the title says it all, so we’re bound to see the hero on-screen, right? Still, even as the premise is fairly conventional, that element of fathers and daughters is the important key to all of this. We get the expected action, jokes, and great special-effects sequences, but the greatness of it all lies in its heart and focus on family. Maybe the resonance stems from the fact that my first marriage ended in divorce and I cherish a close connection to my daughter, but this film grabs me good with this theme. Like Guardians of the Galaxy before it, everything is amplified because of the emotions.
So, it has heart, but in its structure, this is a heist film at its core. The wry humor, creative uses of color, and odd musical choices all feel at home here, as it evokes other films of that ilk. Like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we get a film that pushes against genre expectations and does something very different. Because of this, Ant-Man, who really is late to the party overall with so many heroes already introduced, gets to form a unique identity that is entertaining and needed really. The uniqueness of tone here is made all the more apparent if you stick around for the last after-credit sequence that leads directly into Captain America: Civil War. While there is a seriousness there, the energy of this film is just very loose and different than it and other MCU films. It’s just a fun film, helped greatly by an incredible scene-stealing performance by Michael Pena everytime he is on-screen. He is one of Lang’s criminal pals, and while it wouldn’t be an action extravaganza, I would totally be down for more stories focused on his character.
The action scenes are fantastic throughout. We’ve seen older films that mess with our sense of scale, as Gulliver’s Travels has been adapted many times before. Still, here, we really get to go along for the ride. When Lang is outrunning the water of a running faucet, we are right there at his level. It’s this visceral quality that comes out of mundane scenarios that not only look impressive, but it makes for funny moments throughout. All of this creates a unique type of enjoyment, and it just made me enjoy it all even more.
Largely, this cast is all new, so the right casting was crucial for a film like this. By my estimation, each of the principal cast nails their roles: Rudd is likable and doesn’t overplay any of it, Douglas carves out a great identity for Pym, and Lilly hides her vulnerability behind a tough, quick-to-punch exterior. The training sequences in the middle of the film don’t pace out as well as they need to, in my opinion, but the benefit of what we do get is more time spent together with each of these forming a group. So, yes, the heroes work well.
Sadly, I don’t think that Corey Stoll is the most effective villain here; something about him just kept me at arm’s length the whole time. Maybe it’s because, in a film of so many wise-cracking characters, he just isn’t one. In fact, not only does Cross not crack jokes, he acts with a far greater intense nature. If we really need to find out why, surely Baskin Robbins can find out for us. As we learn, they always find out. To be fair, though, Cross, suited up as Yellowjacket, definitely looks great, and the contrast of colors and suit designs plays out well in the action sequences.
There are several great sequences in this film that still carry excitement. I love Michael Douglas‘ introduction scene, as it is an incredible display of how effective special effects can be when done in a very subtle way. A character from other films pops up here in one of my favorite moments of “cross-pollinating” in any of these movies. Ant-Man‘s power of size manipulation makes incredibly action-packed scenes hilarious because the scale appears to be massive, but the action is barely noticeable to anyone who might be casually observing. Because of these, things that are pretty well established in these types of movies all feel somehow different here. This movie had every reason to be Marvel’s first misstep, and while there are many who aren’t as big of a fan of this as I am, I am amazed this long-gestating project came together, especially in such an entertaining way.
Content-wise, there are several instances of language and sexual content in the movie. The humor and dialogue play loose, and while the father-daughter relationship is endearing to all ages, the jokes aren’t always kid-friendly. Some instances of violence in this movie are particularly shocking for the MCU; it’s not because there is gore everywhere, but it is because of the little amounts that are actually shown and imagining the repercussions of it all. These all highlight the ruthlessness and determination of some of the characters. There are many families that are broken homes due to divorce or are one parent households due to death; this film understands that and uses it all to tell its story. I really like how human this film is and approachable. Again, it grants it uniqueness in identity, after many superhero films. Faith content isn’t really a problem here, and it really isn’t a strength either.
All-in-all, I really enjoy Ant-Man. The cast is fun, the tone is light, and it just feels different in all the right ways. It may not be the pre-imminent quality film in all of the MCU, but I don’t think it meant to be. I think when one sees it as a unique trip on a much larger journey, it’s just a great time. I look forward to seeing the heroes found here continuing their adventures later this year in Ant-Man and The Wasp. Until, then, we’ll just have to wait and see if our favorite “little guy” pops up in Avengers: Infinity War.