I had my doubts about Ant-Man. At first I was excited about it, since it was going to be directed by Edgar Wright, one of my directorial heroes who made the epic trilogy of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End.
Then Wright dropped out of the project due to “creative differences” or whatever, and was replaced by a director I’ve never heard of, and my enthusiasm dimmed. Still, I figured I’d see the movie anyway, though more out of curiosity than anything else.
What a surprise to discover that Ant-Man is quite a fun movie. It’s not a masterpiece by any means, but it’s a good dose of summer fun that I ended up enjoying quite a bit more than I had anticipated.
The main character of the film is Scott Lang, played by Paul Rudd, an ex-con recruited by Dr. Hank Pym to wear a suit that makes you really small in order to…hang on, let’s back up a bit.
Dr. Hank Pym is played in the film by Michael Douglas, and he’s an important character in Marvel lore (I think he was one of the founding members of the Avengers in the comics) making his big-screen debut.
Pym is a brilliant scientist who has invented a suit that allows its wearer to shrink to the size of, you guessed it, an ant. Turns out this has more practical applications than you might think, as it increases the user’s strength by a large amount (there’s some explanation for this that currently escapes me, but I remember thinking that it kind of made sense, you know, under the circumstances) and being really small makes it quite a bit easier to sneak around in sensitive areas unseen.
Pym has also invented a device that’s a sort of earpiece that allows its user to control ants, which again comes in handy more often than you might think.
Pym chose Lang to wear the suit for a couple of reasons. First, Lang is a skilled cat burglar whose skills will come in handy for the job Pym has in mind for him, and second, Lang is motivated not by personal greed but by the need to help provide for his daughter Cassie, who idolizes him.
Pym wants Lang to break into the headquarters of one Darren Cross, Pym’s former protégé, who has invented his own version of Pym’s superpowered shrinking suit (although his version has more laser guns and looks meaner), which he calls the Yellowjacket, and intends to sell it to the highest bidder.
The meat of the film is structured like a heist movie, sort of like Ocean’s Eleven with superpowers. You know: the plan, the setup, the crew, the practice, the execution, the escape. This is all executed pretty well, and is quite a bit of fun to watch.
One of the film’s greatest strengths is that its makers were clearly aware of how inherently ludicrous its premise is, and must have had a lot of fun coming up with inventive sight gags. It really is completely unlike any other Marvel movie.
It’s not a movie about saving the world, and that’s kind of refreshing. I mean, it kind of is, since Pym doesn’t want his former protégé to sell his weaponized shrinking suit to bad guys, but its story is more contained than the somewhat bloated narrative of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
The movie does tie in to the larger Marvel universe (there are brief appearances by Peggy Carter and Howard Stark at the beginning of the movie, as well as references to S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers – there’s even a cameo by an Avenger, although I won’t spoil which one), but is still easy to follow on its own.
It’s also quite funny, although it does seem like it’s trying a bit too hard to be funny at times. There are almost too many jokes actually, sometimes I wanted it to lay off the jokes a bit. None of the jokes are in bad taste or anything (this is still a mostly family-friendly film) but sometimes I wanted it to lay off the jokes a little.
Still, the action scenes are fun. The special effects look a bit computery at times, but oh well. There’s pretty much no way this film could have been made without CGI, so I can forgive the slightly cheesy special effects.
I did enjoy the film’s climactic battle. Hero and villain battle on top of a speeding train, and use their super-strength to fling train cars at each other as the massive machine lumbers along the tracks. The twist is (slight spoiler alert) that all of this takes place in a little girl’s bedroom, and the train is Thomas the Tank Engine. So as hero and villain are engaged in an epic battle, to the outside world, Thomas the Tank Engine is just going around and around his little track. It’s hilarious and kind of adorable, and is nothing you would find in any other movie. It’s hard to be original these days, but Ant-Man’s ridiculous premise lends itself to originality very well.
The film’s acting is also solid. Paul Rudd is an actor known mainly for comedies, and he demonstrates great comedic timing and is very likable. Michael Douglas is, well, Michael Douglas. To be honest, I’ve never been a huge Michael Douglas fan, but he’s well-suited to this kind of role (rich, grumpy, eccentric, brilliant inventor/businessman).
The love interest is Pym’s daughter Hope, played by the lovely Evangeline Lilly, who recently played the badass elf warrior Tauriel in the second and third Hobbit films. Hope has some pretty severe daddy issues, and unfortunately falls victim to the movie-cliché of calling her father by his first name, which is something that always annoys me. But I still liked Hope despite some of the clichés in the writing of her character and Lilly and Rudd have some enjoyable back-and-forth banter.
Even though the movie wasn’t directed by my hero Edgar Wright, the film’s replacement director, Peyton Reed, still did a good job with the outlandish material. There are several sequences that seemed like something Wright could have directed, which made me happy. Wright still has a screenwriting credit and an executive producer credit on the movie, so his contributions to the project are still there.
Overall, Ant-Man is a lot of fun. There are some clichés, but there’s also quite a bit of originality, although the villain didn’t get much personality, which is too bad. Overall, I think I liked it more than Age of Ultron, which is shocking to me. It’s less busy than the bloated Avengers sequel, and is actually quite refreshing. So go see it, you might just be surprised. And this probably goes without saying, but make sure you stay ALL THE WAY through the end credits. Trust me, it’s important.