There is certainly no escape from well-polished, carefully-constructed superhero movies, but at least for a moment, there is a reprieve from massive destruction and comic book lore.
It’s a still massive spectacle and formulaic storytelling, but with Ant-Man, Marvel’s latest cinematic entry into its large-scale film universe, we go smaller instead of bigger. Which means in lieu of leveling cities, we’re destroying kid’s toys; instead of a set piece on a bridge or highway, it’s in an air vent or briefcase.
That’s because some time decades back, a brilliant scientist by the name of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) developed technology that could make things shrink, and now his protégé-turned-inferiority complex Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has replicated such power and wants to use it for evil. Well, for money, but evil people pay the most it seems.
So enter Scott Lang, played with charisma and reserved exuberance by Paul Rudd, the latest superhero enlistee in the Marvel cinematic universe. An ex-con with a hard time getting on his feet, and a devoted father who wants to see his daughter despite the concerns of his ex-wife (Judy Greer, again ostracized as a worried mother) and her police officer fiance (Bobby Cannavale), Lang needs help. When he breaks in the wrong house (or maybe it’s the right one), Pym tracks Lang down to make him a deal.
Lang needs to stop Cross, and eventually we get to a lengthy and silly montage of Lang working with the Ant-Man costume while getting training from Pym’s savvy daughter (Evangeline Lilly). Regrettably, she is the only main female character in Ant-Man. She is overprotected by her father, yet smarter and tougher than Lang, skilled with the suit and possessive of an understanding of its insect namesakes, but she is a woman so her turn will have to wait.
At least there is humour though. Like last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy¸ Ant-Man is surely farther off the grid than some of the more palatable superhero movies. One guy may be a god, and another a billionaire who makes an iron suit, but here we have a bit of technology that shrinks the wearer, and also allows him to command armies of ants.
Rudd is one of four men credited with writing the script, along with Edgar Wright, Adam McKay, and Joe Cornish, all of whom are known for their comedic touches. Lang seems to be the most in on the joke; an Ant-Man suit is pretty ridiculous, but then again he lives in a world of Avengers; they are referenced and made fun of, and one or two even show up. It helps too that Lang is buoyed by a trio of misanthropic ne’er do wells, including Michael Pena and T.I.
Director Peyton Reed seems aware of what is happening too. He adheres to the Marvel origins story template, one that makes sacred comic book stories entertaining and safe, tweaking slightly that which is familiar. Ant-Man takes itself the right amount of serious, and he could easily be our new favourite superhero; it may be because he is self-ware, but it may be too because he is simply the latest.