This feels like Marvel’s freshest effort in years.
I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Ant-Man. Part of it might be due to going into the movie with relatively low expectations, and another part of it might be due to the fact that the movie takes place in San Francisco. But Ant-Man is great because it feels like it was made for fun. Unlike Age of Ultron, which felt like a “going-through-the-motions” type affair in the long march to the Infinity War films, Ant-Man has space to be weird and be itself.
Indeed, Ant-Man shares a great deal with the first Iron Man movie, not least in terms of plot: irreverent guy with a special set of skills escapes from prison, dons a suit and fights a bald corporate shark in a similar but evil suit. But the movie also shares with the first Iron Man a certain subversiveness and also a certain intimacy. It’s a small story in more ways than one, and not just because Ant Man stars a superhero the size of an ant. It allows the motivations of people to come to the fore a bit more, to couch things in more human terms than just a desire to save the world. While Ant-Man doesn’t break new ground in terms of character motivations, it does so with a bit more groundedness than most other, more weighty, Marvel efforts.
The movie does several things well. Humor is one – Ant Man’s brand of humor retains the high-speed wisecrackery that characterises Edgar Wright’s films – a holdout from when Wright was at the helm of the movie. Michael Peña in particular is very funny as Scott Lang’s partner in crime Luis who can’t stop recounting the irrelevant details of his various activities. Michael Douglas is a standout as Lang’s crotchety mentor, Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man. Paul Rudd is pretty funny too, at times, channeling his other work. Unlike with Iron Man, there is no dominant personality like with Robert Downey Jr., in Ant Man the cast gels together as one comedic unit, acting out what resembles in many ways a heist film. There’s chemistry between the members of the heist team, with Lang at the center, and it works.
The other good thing is the action. Summer superhero movies can get a little bit stale with the generic CGI’ed action scenes, but Ant Man breathes new life into it by shrinking the action down. In a smaller world, mundane objects take on titanic proportions, physics appears to behave differently, and we are treated to a new visual world. The movie takes advantage of the fairly ridiculous premise to inject kinetic humor into the action – the titanic battle between Ant Man and Yellowjacket on a Thomas the Tank Engine toy train set is the standout example. The scene features frequent back-and-forth cuts between the action as perceived by Lang and the action perceived by a normal-sized observer, highlighting the deliberate absurdity of the scene. Ant Man’s tininess makes for some very creative, and very satisfying, action chops.
There are a lot of sly references to the events and characters of the other movies, and even a few hints about the upcoming Marvel Spiderman reboot. Lang even asks Pym why he just didn’t call on the Avengers to stop Yellowjacket – a nice example of tidying up your metaplot by pre-empting a potential audience question. Lang even goes to the Avengers base in New York to steal a piece of macguffin tech, and in the process gets into a fight with one of them. That kind of fanservice is much appreciated, and adds to the appeal of the film.
All in all, Ant Man is great because it’s one of those movies that Marvel was able to take a chance on – to deliver something more laid-back, more relaxed, and more subversive, while still linking it, in subtle but satisfying ways, to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. And those ants are seriously and surprisingly cute too.
I give this movie: 4 out of 5 Anthonys