4 / 5
Akin to what Jurassic World did with velociraptors, Marvel’s new standalone pulled off the unlikely and momentarily turns ants into the cutest little creatures.
More importantly, Ant-Man also manages to execute the premise of its titular hero in comedic and stylistic fashion. Although, with its minor flaws, you can’t help but think about what could have been if director Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) stayed on the helm — instead it’s Bring It On director Peyton Reed. That doesn’t at all shrink any cause for celebration, however, because Reed and friends have pulled off the impossible by bringing Ant-Man to the big screen.
Ant-Man opens in 1989, when a digitally younger Michael Douglas, as Dr. Hank Pym, and a few colleagues — including Howard Stark (John Slattery) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) — argue over possession of the “Pym Particle,” which is the heart of Ant-Man’s shrinking technology. This introduction serves as a sliver of backstory and the only major reference — excluding the usual dash of character and cinematic mentions and cameos — to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Ant-Man. Because of that, it very much feels like a smaller installment in terms of scope and style, where the growth of the MCU isn’t as heavy-handed. It allows for a very isolated experience, as Ant-Man stands well on its own. Also due to its sparing use of references, whenever one is actually made, they make for some of the movie’s best scenes.
Fast forward to present day onscreen, and we’re introduced to fresh-out-of-prison and ex-convict Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who’s elaborately tested and hired by Hank to take the passing of the torch (before Scott, Hank donned the suit and title of Ant-Man.) Hank’s timing and decision to find his successor in Scott isn’t at all random, as Hank’s old apprentice Darren Cross (played by an always-dapper Corey Stoll) crawls closer to mimicking Hank’s technology and suit in the form of Yellowjacket.
Ant-Man is, at its heart, a heist film that modestly blends the action and comedy into a conveniently ant-sized package. It has all the characteristics of the MCU — by being light and riddled with jokes and clever one-liners — but can pass as a one-off that isn’t preaching the bigger agenda. (Despite the fact Ant-Man ends the second phase of Marvel’s cinematic lineup.)
And how relieving is it to see that Rudd’s entry to Marvel’s endlessly-growing lineup of supers passed with flying colors? While a solid argument can be made that he’s essentially playing himself, his charm and goofball personality translate seamlessly into his titular hero and coinciding alter ego. The same goes for his unofficial sidekick found in Michael Peña‘s charismatic motormouth, Luis, who steals every single moment he’s on frame. Ant-Man’s other Michael (Douglas), being the Oscar-winning actor he is, delivers an equally engaging performance as a seasoned Ant-Man who’s mentoring his heir.
It doesn’t play through without its flaws, however, as the movie does suffer from the usual shortcomings found in the MCU. While the characters are a joy to watch onscreen, you can’t help but notice that there’s no real development happening. The titular character himself doesn’t even get a fully-fleshed backstory. However, that might just be Reed’s way of avoiding the growing fatigue for superhero origin stories.
Looking at the bigger picture, it’s an admirable effort to stand out from its siblings by being the most isolated entry into the MCU, as far as standalones go. But once you grab that magnifying glass and start to really look at the details, Ant-Man — while it’s still another success for Marvel — reveals more flaws than you’d like it to.
Marvel’s “villain problem” is also a sore thumb here, as Corey Stoll’s Darren is no more than a well-dressed cue ball of fury. Along with Stoll’s talents, the fact that his character suffers from a major health condition that forces him into the “Yellowjacket” is so underdeveloped and underutilized that it’ll be overlooked, but not missed, in the blink of an eye.
Throughout Ant-Man, Scott’s motivation for most of his actions are driven by his desire to be with his daughter again, who’s been taken from his custody since his conviction by his ex-wife and her new husband (played by Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale, respectively.) Because of this, she unfortunately becomes more of a plot device if anything.
With solid performances and intuitive visuals, Ant-Man bears the same under-estimation in size but power in physical strength of the very household insects its hero is named after. It isn’t bigger-than-life and doesn’t try to be, but it provides enough laughs and visual flare when executing its action set-pieces — both big and small — that it succeeds in making its own mark in the endless world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.