Ant-Man (2015) / Action-Sci Fi

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Running Time: 117 min.

Cast: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Michael Pena, Tip 'T.I.' Harris, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Abby Ryder Fortson, Martin Donovan, Anthony Mackie, David Dastmalchian, Wood Harris
Cameo and small role: Stan Lee, Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, John Slattery, Garrett Morris, Sebastian Stan
Director: Peyton Reed
Screenplay: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd

Review published July 21, 2015

A bit of an also-ran in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man may not have the ready-made name recognition of the rest of the Avengers, but it does tie in with the overall story arc of the MCU, which should be enough for most of the fans to be reasonably interested in seeing where it goes, even if they aren't yet ecstatic about the property to think it might have done well as a complete standalone adventure, though, non-Marvel zombies may be interested to know, with the exception of a few obligatory Avengers tie-ins, Ant-Man mostly plays as one.

There's actually more than one Ant-Man in the film, as we start with the original, Dr. Hank Pym (Douglas, And So It Goes), a leading scientist, and inventor of the "Pym Particle", which allows things, including people, to shrink own to ant-size, or more, but with enhanced strength. Through a series of ingenious plays, Pym manages to get his Ant Suit into the hands of resourceful (but jobless) cat burglar Scott Lang (Rudd, They Came Together), recently released from prison for theft on a corporate scale, though he did it to return money the company reportedly bilked form its customers.  The reason for the ruse: Pym wants Lang to thwart the plans of his power-hungry former protégé Darren Cross (Stoll, This Where I Leave You) in using his designs to create his own method shrink people down to miniature size in the form of the flying, weaponized Yellowjacket suits, which he aims to do for nefarious purposes. Pym's shrewd and scrappy daughter Hope (Lilly, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) still works in the company under Cross, which gives them the inside knowledge they need for Lang to breach Cross's tight security and stop the Yellowjacket project before it disrupts global warfare as we know it.

Whereas the other untested Marvel property, Guardians of the Galaxy, won over audiences with irreverent charm, funny and likeable characters, and a toe-tapping soundtrack, Ant-Man is more content to deliver a broadly goofy and blatantly corny sensibility that makes it feel like it is aiming for a younger set than the other MCU releases, even though it does still garner a PG-13 rating for its violence.  It's not a film that seeks to deliver any modicum of high-stakes seriousness, and unlike the Captain America films, this one isn't trying to comment on the political climate of the world.  If it makes you smile and keeps your attention, the makers of Ant-Man probably feel like they've done their job properly in what amounts to a genial heist comedy with superhero ambitions.

The screenplay had originally been scripted by Edgar Wright (The World's End, Scott Pilgrim) and Joe Cornish (The Adventures of Tintin, Attack the Block), with Wright, who had cultivated the vision of Ant-Man for years, intending to direct, but creative differences saw a divorce from the project (Marvel became more controlling as they grew to massive popularity -- a queen ant that expects its workers to keep the colony running smoothly), leading to rewrites by Adam McKay (Anchorman 2, Talladega Nights), and eventually Rudd himself during filming, while fluff-comedy veteran Peyton Reed had been brought in to mold it more in the shape that Marvel Studios had been seeking. While Reed does enough to hold the fort down, Wright is a comedic visionary proven to be able to tackle wild science fiction and action concepts, often finding brilliant new wrinkles while paying a great deal of homage to his inspiration.  Though Ant-Man is still an entertaining enough watch, and has some eye-popping visual zip, it's hard not to be disappointed that we won't see what might have been with Wright at the helm.  As a comedy, it might make you smirk or lightly chuckle on a couple of occasions, mostly due to a few low-scale, size-related sight gags, but it's doubtful you'll be quoting the film for any hilarious one-liners once you leave the theater.

Rudd, despite a co-screenwriting credit, subdues his smart-ass rascal persona a bit here to be a more approachable and likeable hero, if a tad vanilla, who is more motivated by affairs of the heart (the potential to restore his relationship with the daughter he couldn't see while spending years in prison) than in living a life of crime just for the sake of it.  Douglas delivers his most appealing and commercial performance in many years, in a role that parallels the one given to Rudd in that he's trying to re-establish a connection with his own estranged daughter, though his was a case of being too controlling rather than in being absent.  Stoll gives a solid performance, even if his villain role is a bit generic, feeling more like Obadiah Stane from the original Iron Man film, complete with a prolonged climax in which supercharged hero and supercharged villain fight it out in their respective techno suits. Though the Yellowjacket suit is clearly more powerful, Pym shows Lang a particularly key piece of tech that makes him infinitely more resourceful in a device that allows its wearer to use his mind to control various kinds ants from all over the world.

Lilly has a fetching presence, and does a pretty good job with a performance that entertains a more physical approach, but she isn't given a great deal to do but be manipulated by the men around her, though she does retain an independent spirit that allows her a modicum of breathing room.  The "Three Stooge"-like partners in crime of Pena (Fury), T.I. (Get Hard) and Dastmalchian (Prisoners) are there mostly for comic relief, but their dumb-as-rocks characters are so cartoonish (something the supporting players in the Thor series share), one couldn't see them existing beyond that limited role. Cannavale (Danny Collins) is wasted in a role that doubles both as the hapless husband to Lang's ex father to the daughter Lang is trying to reconnect more with, and the face of the cops who get involved in the mix of things (and, conveniently, seems to be the first cop on the scene no matter where the action takes place).

Ant-Man feels like the slightest film in the MCU, no pun intended, a bit of a throwback to comic-based films of the 1990s, such as The Rocketeer and The Phantom, full of silly characterizations and goofball charm.  However, after the bloated, big-scale release that was Avengers: Age of Ultron just a few months prior, it's nice to see that Marvel can still make a smaller-scale superhero flick, rather than continuously try to one-up the last one with more and more spectacle.  Viewers expecting another surprise in the mold of Guardians of the Galaxy won't get it here, but Ant-Man isn't a movie that seeks to do more than introduce a new hero into the Avengers universe (specifically, one that will add comedy to the the team), and try to be likeable enough for all demographics to not sour them on Marvel properties in the meantime.  Even if it ultimately is a second-tier Marvel film, it is successful on both of its goals, which makes Ant-Man a success even without garnering a billion dollars in the worldwide box office.

 -- There is a short mid-credits scene and an end-credits stinger that teases what is to come after this film.

Qwipster's rating:

©2015 Vince Leo