If, like me, you’ve been slowly tiring of the big, bloated superhero adventures that all seem to end with entire cities being reduced to rubble, then you’ll be happy to know that Ant-Man feels a lot more intimate than the typical Marvel blockbuster. And the stakes are relatively lower too. Think about it – the first action sequence in the film takes place in a bathtub.
Ant-Man, while less popular than Iron Man, The Hulk and Thor, has been a regular character in the comics since he first showed up in 1962. He has the unique ability to shrink at will and cause all sorts of trouble for the bad guys. No wonder the smart folks at Marvel decided that Ant-Man needed his own movie.
Designed as an origin story of the undersized superhero, the film, directed by Peyton Reed, stars the very likeable Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, an expert thief coming off a three-year prison stint. While hoping to go straight and reconnect with his young daughter, he’s tempted into one last job by his best friend (a scene-stealing Michael Peña). Turns out that the safe they crack belongs to atomic scientist Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and the mysterious bodysuit inside gives Scott the ability to shrink to the size of an insect, and also to command an ant-army through a mind-controlling device.
After much persuasion, Scott teams up with Pym and the scientist’s no-nonsense daughter Hope (an impenetrable Evangeline Lilly) to steal one of Pym’s creations from greedy industrialist Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who’s assembling a weaponized version of the Ant-Man suit.
Humor, woven intricately into its script, is the key strength of this film. From the many in-jokes directed at other Marvel superhero movies, to the sheer hilarity that ensues the first few times Scott puts on the suit, there’s a lightness of touch to Ant-Man that’s rare in Marvel movies…except perhaps in Guardians of the Galaxy. A lot of that is due to Rudd, who can be relied on to bring the funny. He’s decidedly unheroic, and that’s part of the charm.
But criminally, Ant-Man spends way too much time on exposition and back-story. For a movie about a superhero character, we get repeated indoor scenes with Douglas rambling on about one thing or the other. And too much screen time is given to a subplot about the unresolved issues between Pym and his daughter.
The film really gathers steam in its second hour, when Scott embraces his powers and sets out to pull off the heist he’s been training for. It all culminates in a cleverly executed climax on a toy-train set. Nice change from those world-flattening finales of The Avengers movies!
I’m going with three out of five for Ant-Man. There’s plenty laughs and some neat special effects. But what the movie needed was real edge, and a willingness to take bold risks.