I am a Marvel Zombie, to say the least. I was raised on bread-and-butter “Spider-Man” comics, the terrible ’90s “X-Men” cartoon and some wonderful “Avengers” sheets. As such, the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far has really fit with my love of Marvel Comics. With some minor missteps in “Iron Man 2” and “Thor”, the MCU has been an entertaining and satisfying ride through a new portrait of the Marvel Universe. I am happy to say that Marvel’s new film, “Ant-Man”, continues to deliver with the thrills and hijinks of the past while also pushing the universe forward as a whole. Though there are a few stumbles along the way, “Ant-Man” proves itself as a suitable part of the MCU.
Scott Lang, a lovable rogue recently released from prison, has decided to give up his former life as a cat burglar and focus on becoming the hero his daughter already thinks he is. After a meaningless job at Baskin Robbins falls through, Scott is forced back to make money for child support. So begins a long chain of events that lead to Scott meeting the famed scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily), who need his special brand of skills to destroy technology that will lead to the world’s destruction. To do so, he must become the Ant-Man, a trained warrior with the ability to shrink and grow through the use of Pym particles, a compound created by Pym years before. Surrounded by a colorful cast of allies, Scott must use these abilities wisely to save not just his world, but more importantly, his daughter’s future.
With that basic premise in mind, “Ant-Man” becomes stuck between two extremely different stories. The first is that of the classic Marvel film, somewhere in between “Iron Man” and “Captain America”. Hero is given power beyond what they thought possible and must use it to save the world and repair the relationships around him. It’s not strikingly original or ingenious, but “Ant-Man” does execute this time-honored trope well. Scott feels heroic, though perhaps too much so when the film begins to roll. There is little new character trajectory for him, but Paul Rudd brings real pathos and emotion to the character. You give a damn about Scott and his daughter, and are actively rooting for him from the very start. The viewer can tell this is someone who wants to do good at his very core; he just gets confused sometimes and loses his way. Though “Iron Man” remains the pinnacle for this idea, “Ant-Man” does satisfy the need to see someone heroic becoming a true hero.
Where “Ant-Man” truly comes into its own, however, is with its second story: a simple heist film in the style of “Ocean’s Eleven”. It is in this section that the movie truly shines. The quick wit and tongue of Lang matches with the upbeat movement, Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym and Evangeline Lilly’s Hope provide perfect counters as frustrated and scared mentors and Scott’s former crook friends bring a different level of comedy that never wears thin. You can tell the Edgar Wright-ness of the script in these moments. His sharp, quick style is everywhere in these sections from the movement to the dialogue. Whereas other parts of the dialogue feel hammy and forced, you can tell the actors enjoyed what they were saying here and brought the movie to life.
As for the characters themselves, all feel incredible fleshed out and human, with one major flaw. The three main characters are all exceptional, and I can’t wait to see them appear in other Marvel films. Hank Pym is the appropriate jerk we all wanted him to be, without touching into the much more grim aspects of the character’s comic book history. Hope van Dyne, though created for the film, feels like the classic Janet van Dyne (aka the Wasp) of the comics, and brings real emotion to her scenes with her estranged father (never thought I would say that about Evangeline Lilly but here we are). And Scott is a brilliant hero, with wit and skills to match.
The problems come from the film’s main villain, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). There is no real establishment or threat provided about Cross outside of “He’s gone mad with power and must be stopped”. There is a quick throwaway line that establishes how he became a megalomaniac, but the film never bothers to flesh it out or explain how that thing happened. It flirts with the idea of a spurned protege and with a scientifically-altered madman, but never settles. Cross feels flat and phony, which is a shame in a film surrounded by more detailed characters, even if they only have smaller parts. He is by far the weakest of the MCU villains, stealing the crown from Malekith (“Thor: The Dark World”).
Visually, the film is simply stunning. The CGI on the ants that work with Scott is incredible, even pulling off making them seem cute and adorable. I found myself attached to some ants and was rooting for them to pull through. It’s brilliant CGI work, helped by some stunning views when Scott is small. The miniature environments are incredible, mostly created by digitally adding Rudd to pre-shot environments. That’s right. Many of the sets are real, shot up-close with a Phantom camera. It brings a level of realism to the film that is much appreciated during its more climatic moments. I highly recommend seeing the film in 3D as well. Usually I cannot stand 3D movies, but “Ant-Man” uses it to enhance its already brilliant designs in some really key ways.
“Ant-Man”, while not the strongest MCU film, is still a must-see for Marvel fans. Some brilliant cameos and links back to the upcoming films prove that “Ant-Man” is a lynchpin for what is to come (make sure to stay for both after-credit scenes). Brilliant performances from the lead actors help sell a film that stumbles a little bit in the tone and originality department. “Ant-Man” is a fun romp that doesn’t hit the lofty heights of other MCU films, but ask yourself this: does it really need to? Or can it just have some fun?