Let’s face it; you’re either a Marvel junkie or you’re not. So to the junkies I say this: go. Go see Ant-Man. See it now. Spring for the 3D and get yourself some popcorn and licorice while you’re at it. You’re gonna dig this. But you don’t need that from me, because you’re probably already in line, or have your tickets for tonight’s show. Good move, you.
For those that are a bit more curious as to the quality of the latest flick in the MCU — the last in Phase 2, which will complete the set-up for Phase 3 — I understand. You’re trying to figure out if this is more Avengers than Iron Man 3. (Hey, I liked Iron Man 3.) So I tell you guys this: Ant-Man is fun. Paul Rudd does an exceptional job as Scott “Ant-Man” Lang, and the writers (which includes Rudd) do a great job of laying out exactly how it feels to be a regular Joe tapped for greater things. In fact, you could go as far as to say that with Ant-Man Marvel shrinks its bigger/louder/more ‘splode-y formula down to the basics. And this focus on one man, one villain, one problem works perfectly here.
If Ultron was an exercise in showing the awesome power of superheroes, Ant-Man lets you into the daily grind that was hinted at with Ultron‘s Hawkeye subplot. Scott Lang is a guy that just got out of jail for doing something he felt was right, against a company that was doing wrong. But his prior life as a golden boy engineer has been replaced by one as an ex-con. He tries to re-connect with his young daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson, adorable and wicked smart) as his ex-wife (the always amazing Judy Greer) moves on with her police-officer boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale, walking the line between meanie and guy trying to do right.) Ant-Man focuses on the struggle Lang goes through to try to keep straight, getting beaten down over and over again until another “easy!” score doesn’t sound so bad.
That easy score is a break-in job at “some old guy’s house”, aka the home of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Comic book readers know him as the first Ant-Man, and if you think there’ll be flashbacks, then you’re right on point. It’s nice to see the ol’ 1960s S.H.I.E.L.D. folks together, including our favorite WWII heroine. (Though John Slattery as an older Howard Stark was such a miscast that I didn’t even know who he was supposed to be ’til I read the IMDb breakdown.) But Pym ain’t what he used to be, plus he’s not keen on putting his “Pym Particles” — the things that allow Ant-Man to ant — in the hands of the genpop. So several years back he was ousted from his own company in favor of a guy that will do anything for a buck. That’d be Darren Cross, aka Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll, channeling the same naive, hard-headed single-mindedness he has in The Strain) who is ready, willing and almost able to sell that newly weaponized technology to the highest bidder.
Pym is looking for a superhero successor. Cross is looking to re-create Pym’s success with shrinking things. Pym gets his successor, Cross breaks the code…and cue superhero showdown!
Marvel has gone more human with this film, as opposed to its usual larger-than-life superhero halftime spectacular. And Ant-Man is better than Ultron in conveying the day-to-day of a superhero, including how tough it is for someone to learn what to do and how to do it if you’re not chemically enhanced, mutated, or a god. Rudd’s scenes with Evangeline Lily — who plays Pym’s daughter and Cross Labs exec Hope van Dyne — are not only comedy gold, they’re a wake-up call to anyone who things strapping on a suit is all it takes. Sure. You try to get a herd of ants to do your bidding.
Those ant/Ant-Man interactions are genuinely sweet, as Lang becomes more and more invested in his new identity. Lang genuinely cares about his little buddies, and they definitely have his back. Fellow entomology nerds will most likely enjoy the quick run-down of the three types of ants Pym and Lang tap as their mini-posse: the Bullet Ant, Crazy Ant, and Carpenter Ant. What they won’t like (and what drove me crazy) is that these ants aren’t shown as female. Because as with bees, worker ants are lady ants. So as adorable as Lang’s posse — including favorite flyer “Ant-tony” — is just so much what-the-heck. I couldn’t help but think that yeah, adorable; but Ant-tony is a princess ant! She’s Wonder Ant Woman! Okay fine. this is make-believe, so I’ll go with it. But as with Bee Movie, that disregard for the way these insects really live bugs me. (Yes, that pun is on purpose.)
Back to the film. Yes, Stan Lee has his court-mandated cameo. Yes, there’s a final scene, a mid-credits scene, and an end-credits scene that ties Ant-Man into the rest of the MCU. Yes, there’s a promise of more mini-goodness to come. Yes, there’s even an Avenger or two here (spoilers, sweetie.) Russell Carpenter’s cinematography isn’t the bombastic sweeping vistas the usual MCU films trot out, but it’s on-point and keeps a sharp eye on things regardless of how big or small they may be. Editing is perfection, no easy task with the constant shifts in size during fight scenes. Art direction has honeycomb patterns throughout Cross Labs, and on Cross himself, which is way cool. They even trot out LOLA for some seriously cool flashback action. I could have sworn Douglas stepped out of the T.A.R.D.I.S. circa 1990.
The soundtrack is fantastic, and I’m not just saying that because The Cure is used prominently. The end credits music has a groovy-cool Aquabats vibe to it, though they haven’t released the 411 on that song yet. All in all, Ant-Man is a worthy successor to the Marvel movies that have come before. It gives a little-known superhero a grade-A big screen treatment. He’s ready for his close-up, Mr. DeMille.