Review of Ant-Man, Directed by Peyton Reed
At some point in the future, I think we’ll look back on the past decade as a golden age of superhero films, and we’ll be able to point to Ant-Man as a prime example. Director Peyton Reed’s latest addition to the Marvel universe isn’t a great film, not even close, but Ant-Man succeeds simply because it takes a premise about a guy who runs around with ants and turns it into a wildly-entertaining, half-decent movie.
In short, Marvel has hit its stride. After Age of Ultron earlier this year, it would have been tough to go bigger in a single hero origin film, so they did the only thing they could: mock the Avengers to high heaven, and go smaller… way smaller.
The plot surrounding our hero-in-waiting, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), can be summed up as that of Cooper in Interstellar in that both are driven almost solely by their relationship with their daughters. Scott, a noble thief who just got out of prison for stealing from the rich to give to the poor, has an estranged daughter that he wants desperately to care for and protect. He meets a mysterious old man (Michael Douglas as Dr. Hank Pym) who says that he needs him to save the world because he has the skill set and there’s no one else for the job. Saving the world isn’t a big enough reason for Scott to put his life on the line (“We should call the Avengers for that,” he jokes). But what about a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his daughter? Count him in.
His mission? Use Dr. Pym’s old suit to become the Ant-Man and infiltrate a high security lab to steal the only other shrinking suit in existence, which Dr. Pym’s evil former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has weaponized and intends to sell for a ton of money.
Ant-Man is perhaps the least sentimental Marvel film so far, and as a result probably the most comical. Given the nature of its subject, bigger and crazier action isn’t an option, so the entertainment formula involves extra doses of irony and really clever comic relief. Michael Peña is perfectly cast as Luis, Scott’s only true friend, goodhearted thief, partner in crime, and neighborhood gossip. He’s the prototypical kid who takes himself seriously (but who no one can take seriously) – the incompetent but self-confident compadre who somehow still manages to get the job done when the chips are down.
Scattered throughout the film are jabs at the Avengers for the arrogance of Tony Stark, their affairs with cities falling out of the sky, and even a showdown between Ant-Man and The Falcon. But the greatest expression of the film’s self-mockery comes in the final climactic battle between Yellowjacket and Ant-Man. It takes place on a toy train set as the two figures become insect-sized so that they’re hard to hit. Suddenly Thomas the Tank Engine becomes like a life-sized train, and the combatants are supermen, hurling train cars at each other – until the cut out to the rest of the living room, where we see the train topple over as if somehow gave it a little tap. In the micro-sized drama, the most innocuous household items, like a mosquito lamp, suddenly become threats, and household pests like ants become a force to be reckoned with. It’s a welcome shift from the typical Avengers fare to find so much action in the little things – model buildings, water pipes, anthills, and bathtubs.
Sometimes, though, Ant-Man verges on pushing the envelope of humor a little too far. Scott simply can’t let a tender or inspirational moment happen without self-consciously interjecting about how we’re having a tender or sentimental moment. This is quite funny when experienced during the film, but when I look back it leaves something to be desired. It tells a story, but doesn’t quite let us savor it. Other moments feel forced. When Scott vows that has given up “breaking in to places and stealing s***,” it’s obvious how Pym is going to respond: “I need you to break into a place and steal some s***.”
The most emotional moment of the film, in fact, just might come when Ant-Man’s trusty steed, a flying ant that he unoriginally nicknames Antony, is shot out from under him, leaving nothing but a wing drifting heavily down to the cold helipad below. It’s great that Ant-Man gets us to care about an ant, but it had plenty of bigger bugs to fry.