Marvel’s latest project will surprise and delight audiences, if it can get them into the theater in the first place.
Phase 2 has seen Marvel experiment with all number of genres for their films, stepping back from Phase 1’s almost cookie cutter format without getting too far from the formula that made them successful. Iron Man 3 was a small character piece about getting back to basics and dealing with trauma, Guardians of the Galaxy was 80s/90s era sci-fi, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a high octane spy thriller, Avengers: Age of Ultron was … well, that was just showing off. Ant-Man is an old fashioned heist film with an underlying message about fathers and daughters, and probably the biggest departure for the studio, which is a very, very good thing.
The film stars Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, a former cat burglar just out of prison looking to make good and find a way to see his young daughter. But life is hard for an ex-con, even one as charming and adorable as Lang, and he soon finds himself falling back into a life of crime. Enter Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas, and his plan to use Lang to steal back his shrinking technology from his former protege, Darren Cross, before Cross can sell a deadly weapon to the highest bidder (HYDRA). To do this, Lang must take up the mantle of the Ant-Man, a teeny tiny hero who … talks to ants.
The concept is completely ridiculous. It wreaks of 1960s superhero boom, where heroes had all manner of powers, and nothing was too cheesy for a 10 cent comic book. But director Peyton Reed and company make it work, mostly by doing the only thing they could: acknowledging how ridiculous it really is, and reveling in the insanity. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously, laying it on thick with the jokes (Michael Pena, especially, steals every scene he’s in), and the humor offers a kind of buffer which allows the audience to suspend their disbelief long enough to really accept Marvel’s newest hero.
Perhaps my favorite thing about the film lies in the choice to introduce Ant-Man as a legacy character, rather than forcing us to sit through yet another origin story. Instead of watching Hank Pym discover the Pym particle and invent the Ant-Man suit (a move which would have basically meant making another Iron Man), we’re introduced to Ant-Man as a fully functional hero who has spent the last few decades in mothballs. We still see Lang learning the skills needed to take up the mantle, but instead of easing us into the idea of a hero that talks to ants, the movie simply throws the concept at you and forces you to accept it. By limiting the amount of time you have to question the more bizarre aspects of the character, the film simply tells you to deal with it, and move on. There are much more important things to worry about.
The movie isn’t flawless, admittedly. The plot is weaker than some of Marvel’s more recent stories (I’m looking at you Winter Soldier), and the villain is the biggest mustache twirling megalomaniac the studio has yet produced, but what it lacks in completely solid writing it makes up for in its wonderfully charming cast, an impressive use of special effects, and at least a baby step forward as far as female supporting characters are concerned.
I know some will argue with me on this last point, but Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne was a character that combined the job description of Pepper Potts, the intelligence and stubbornness of Peggy Carter, and the ass-kicking skills of Black Widow, all while giving her a complicated relationship with her father, and an ongoing desire to suit up for herself. Sure, she could have had a bit more to do, but no other film has built up the idea of the female member becoming her own superhero in the same way, and none have made you want it so badly.
Even though it is mostly getting positive reviews, Ant-Man still has one very big hurdle to overcome: the lukewarm reception by audiences, and the very real possibility that by breaking from the Marvel mold, the film positions itself to alienate and confuse die hard fans of the MCU formula. The final film of Phase 2 in the grand plan that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe is probably one of the least anticipated of any of the previous films (with the exception of the one that started it all: the first Iron Man), but its also one of the most interesting, certainly the most fun, and possibly one of the strongest the studio has yet produced. If nothing else, it points to a bright future for Marvel, the MCU, and female heroes.
Overall Rating: 7/10