***** SPOILER ALERT *****
This review will be discussing plot points which may be considered spoilers. Consider yourselves warned.
Way back in 1963, Marvel premiered The Avengers, a new team comic featuring several of their solo heroes. Of course, in 2012 those same heroes starred in their own feature length film. Missing from that feature however, were two notable Avengers founders, Ant-Man and Wasp. Three years later Ant-Man has his very own film, and while not the smash hit that Iron Man or Captain America: The Winter Soldier were, Ant-Man makes a very pleasant addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, an engineer recently released from prison for hacking his former corrupt employer. Lang is recruited by yet another Marvel super-scientist, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), to help prevent Pym’s former protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), from weaponizing his greatest discovery, Pym Particles, which allow matter to shrink and restore to original size at will. Lang is joined in his attempt by Pym’s until-recently estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). In order to complete his task, Lang must pick up the mantle of the Ant-Man from Pym himself.
After the darkness that was Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man provides much needed levity. Rudd’s Lang is a hero that is generally worth rooting for. While he has made mistakes in the past and still makes questionable decisions at times, he always acts with the best of intentions. Even more than living with his criminal past, Lang’s biggest challenge is trying to the father figure that his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) needs him to be. Rudd does a great job at playing what amounts to a modern Robin Hood. Even when he knows that he is making a decision that will have negative consequences for him, he is motivated to do the right thing.
The character I enjoyed the most was that of Hank Pym. Michael Douglas was able to portray an exceptionally complex character without feeling forced. Pym is filled with regrets over the loss of his wife Janet and the estrangement from his daughter, as well as his concerns about what is happening at his former company with his former research. An avowed pacifist, Pym is sickened by the idea of using Pym Particles to create an army of shrinking soldiers to be sold to the highest bidder. Douglas’ Pym is a man who is drive by both his principles as well as the demons of his past mistakes. There are even allusions to his mental instability when Pym states that he can’t be Ant-Man anymore because exposure to the particles takes a toll.
As far as the plot is concerned, it was far less ambitious than I would have expected, especially considering how involved Age of Ultron was. This was in no way a detriment to the film. It allowed for deeper character depth for Pym and Lang while still leaving room for humorous moments throughout. One of my favorite parts of the movie was any time Lang tried to get an explanation from his friend Luis; each time, Luis would go into some bizarrely convoluted story about how he got the information. In a different movie that required much faster pacing, these scenes couldn’t exist. Instead, the creators allowed them to happen and they make the movie a little more relatable. For instance, everyone knows at least one person who, like Luis, who has never heard the definition of the word concise. With as much success as the MCU has achieved, there is a very real temptation to be overly ambitious, which is always disastrous when the film falls short.
Although Ant-Man is a very strong film, I found the main villain Yellowjacket boring and somewhat unbelievable. First and foremost, his character feels played out from the start. Nearly every Marvel hero has faced the “evil” version of themselves in their first film. Iron Man had the Iron Monger, Hulk had Abomination and so on. Of course the hero is going to win, because we’ve already seen that they know their powers or suits better than the villain who has newly acquired them. Beyond the idea of Yellowjacket being played out, I’m also very over the idea of the evil industrialist trying to weaponize something and then sell to whatever shadowy character is lurking around. Not only has Marvel already done this once with Obadiah Stane in Iron Man, but it’s a predictable trope that I’m getting bored with. I was also very unsure what Cross’ motives were in the first place. I think the movie was trying to imply that the Pym Particles were affecting his mental state, much like they did with Pym himself, but it’s never clearly identified and it makes him less interesting as a villain.
While Yellowjacket may not have made a particularly impressive villain, the fact that both characters could change their size did make for some truly great fight and CGI sequences. This was the part I was probably most apprehensive about going into the film, and I was overjoyed that they didn’t disappoint. The rapid zooming in and out was done in a manner that avoided causing motion sickness as well as shaky cam syndrome. In fact, Lang’s small size allowed for some long distance shots that have been almost forgotten by the American cinema. By far the best of the fight sequences is the one that takes place in Lang’s daughter’s bedroom. A portion of this sequence can be seen in the trailer, with Ant-Man and Yellowjacket fighting on a Thomas the Train Engine train set. It is both creatively genius and incredibly funny, a combination I didn’t think was achievable to that degree.
In the end, I don’t know that Ant-Man will ever be thought of as one of the greatest movies in the MCU. It really doesn’t compare with the likes of The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man, or Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but then again it doesn’t have to. Ant-Man is still a strong movie that finally brings in a member of the Marvel Universe that has been sorely missed. 4/5 Death Stars