Synopsis: Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, cat burglar Scott Lang must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, plan and pull off a heist that will save the world. (From IMDB)
Review: Thomas the Tank Engine has never before achieved such stature. Toy trains aside, Ant-Man is a slightly different type of Marvel superhero movie. While it is another superhero origin story, the narrative receives a boost from an excellent cast and a tone of frivolity. Director Peyton Reed and his visual artist team created a fantastic “microverse”, also known as the world seen from the perspective of an ant. Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is a noisy and constantly growing place. There are plenty of explosions and non-stop action to while away the time. But there is also room for whimsy, humor, and witty repertoire. Ant-Man is heavy on the repertoire and whimsy interspersed with action. However, it is a solid addition to the Marvel universe and one of the few superhero movies that can be watched multiple times without losing its appeal.
Ant-Man opens during the Cold War and offers a glimpse into the founding of S.H.I.E.L.D. Peggy Carter, Howard Stark, and other allies work alongside a brilliant scientist named Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas. Dr Pym’s life has been dedicated to the discovery of something known as “The Pym Particle”, which can be used to shrink and expand organic matter without losing density or strength. After a tragic accident involving his wife, Pym retired from S.H.I.E.L.D. and cut off all access to the Pym Particle. Cut to present day and Dr Pym’s fear has become reality. Darren Cross, Pym’s former protégé, has discovered the research Pym buried and is close to replicating the Pym Particle. Hope, Pym’s daughter, is infiltrating Cross’ company and decides to help her father stage an infiltration. Pym recruits and trains Scott Lang, a recently released cat burglar, to take over as the legendary Ant-Man. Scott soon embarks on a crazy adventure full of ants, an insane man with a daddy complex, and the cray powers of the Ant-Man suit.
Debuting on the heels of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man is the last installment in Marvel’s Phase II movie roll out. Ant-Man is an origin story for a character that is equally reviled and loved by Marvel fans. As for the actual narrative, Ant-Man is a rather generic origin tale with the usual three acts and unsurprising ending. When has a Marvel movie ever ended with the superhero losing? Despite being a Marvel movie, Ant-Man’s connections to the extended cinematic universe feel shaky and slightly extraneous. And the narrative felt conflicted between its own voice and the extended Marvel narrative. The narrative flows the best when the Marvel brand gives way to a slightly clichéd comedy caper flick. While Ant-Man is still silly and preposterous, but Peyton Reed struck the right balance between comedy and drama to make the narrative work.
When Scott shrinks to ant size, ordinary locations become hyperreal landscapes teeming with threats. A lawn becomes a forest full of terrifying insects and a room full of computer servers becomes a neon-bright skyscraper district. And Thomas the Tank Engine’s innocent grin loses some of its charm when he is about 3,000 times your weight and accelerating in a forward direction. The Ant-Man suit is a piece of steampunk beauty, with its black and red leather and futuristic motorcycle helmet. However, the narrative does not do a great job explaining how the suit works. And that is a little disappointing since Ant-Man is one of the few Marvel characters who gets his power from science and not magic. But at least the ants are interesting to look at close up.
A majority of the levity comes courtesy of Luis, played excellently by Michael Pena. Luis proves to be a real scene stealer with his goofy grin and habit of telling convoluted stories. He is Scott Lang’s former cell mate and friend. Though his only solution to every problem involves illegal activities. Also, Baskins Robbins is apparently the new FBI. Pena comes across as a happy guy who just happened to wonder into a super hero movie. And his antics as Luis perfectly plays off of Michael Douglas’ straight-laced Hank Pym. Douglas adds some gravitas to the overall frivolity. He manages to make Pym a standout character through dialogue, some emoting, and exasperated looks. This continues the Marvel tradition of bringing in veteran actors to add some credentials to the film. Evangeline Lily’s character is given enough personality to be interesting but not stand-out. Based upon the ending, Lily will be appearing in future Marvel installments with, hopefully, more character development.
Paul Rudd is most comfortable when firing off sarcastic one-liners. He plays Scott Lang with an easy going charm and happy-go-lucky attitude. Though he does have enough dramatic moments to make Lang come across as a three dimensional character. Rudd is certainly not a typical superhero actor but he works within the context of this film. The best scenes arise when Rudd is playing off of Pena’s character Luis or building a mentor-mentee rapport with Hank Pym. Most of the banter between Scott and Hank are typical of an opposites attract storyline. Both Scott and Hank have a lot in common, two conflicted individuals with an overwhelming desire to protect their daughters. Rudd is charming and makes Scott a relatable character. Also, his interaction with Anthony Mackie’s Falcon was hilarious.
Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross is the standard emotionally shattered and egomaniacal villain with crippling daddy issues. Stoll plays Cross well and makes him come across as a man who hates and admires Pym. However, the explanation of why Cross wants to destroy the world are thinly developed and unconvincing. Darren Cross could have been a fantastic villain. But Cross has no development and is incredibly one-dimensional. Take away the creepy smile and shiny suits and Cross is really not that great of a villain. Despite the poor villain, Ant-Man is an enjoyable comedy caper with a Marvel flare. It is one of the few Marvel films that can be watched multiple times without losing its charm.