Thank you God, Disney and Stan Lee…Ant-Man is supremely entertaining.
One of the things I always tell myself in any creative endeavor for money – like this one – is “remember to have fun.” It’s so easy to forget, when your hobby becomes your source of income, that it’s not all about making money, hitting deadlines and paying bills. What we do is called “entertainment” for a reason. It really felt like Marvel, and particularly Joss Whedon, had lost sight of that lately, but despite (or maybe because of) a long and troubled gestation period, Ant-Man is entertaining first and foremost. Some of this is inherent to the material, in that every big action sequence is also a sight gag. Much of it’s due to Paul Rudd, who’s like a Muppet in his ability to puncture any overly emotional moment with a well-timed quip or spot of irreverence. And director Peyton Reed, whose background includes working with Weird Al Yankovic and Mr. Show, deserves a lot of credit as well, though this is by far his most visually inventive movie to date.
Ant-Man, about a superhero who can shrink and grow at will all while mentally controlling armies of ants, cleverly reinvents the origin story by acknowledging that there already was a previous Ant-Man – you just didn’t know about him. And for years, the technology to reduce the space between molecules inside living beings (don’t think about this too hard) has been buried because its originator, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) didn’t want Howard Stark to get his hands on it. Stark’s peripheral connection is but one of several ties to the larger Marvel universe that presumably led to Edgar Wright leaving the project – which was initially conceived as an auteur-centric one-shot unconnected to the Avengers movies – but most are unobtrusive to the tale at hand.
Indeed, Reed manages to tweak the standard formula in some interesting ways, though a cynic might suggest this was a mandate from the top down to placate us restless masses. A sequence in which Ant-Man’s criminal buddy Luis recalls how he learned about a hot tip involves clever camera moves, rhythmic editing, and every character in the flashback lip-syncing to Luis’ voice as he tells it. It’s one of the most inspired moments in any Marvel Studios movie to date, and has nothing whatsoever to do with superheroics.
New Ant-Man is Scott Lang (Rudd), a burglar whose crime was a righteous anti-corporate maneuver of the sort Disney would fully prosecute to the max if it happened to them. Pym selects him to don the suit and steal a newer, more evil copy of it from former protegee Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who is apparently suffering from the kind of shrinkage-induced dementia that compels one to make deals with international criminals. Lang, as is expected in any hero’s journey tale, says no, right up until the point that the movie reminds him and us that his small daughter has a stepdad who’s also an asshole cop. Plus, as an ex-con – even a fabulously handsome and funny caucasian one – Lang is unhireable anywhere else.
While some of what ensues is formulaic – the moment you’re told about this movie’s equivalent of “crossing the streams,” it’s inevitable how things must conclude – Reed, like James Gunn, throws in enough quirkiness to make things his own, whether it be an extended “cameo” of sorts by Thomas the Tank Engine, or even the obligatory use of another Marvel character for a scene that seldom feels like the blatant hook for the next movie that it is.
And while it may not be quite the answer to all the diversity in comics complaints we’ve been hearing, Ant-Man does give its hero a multicultural crew of burgling buddies – that they’re all criminals is perhaps sadly unsurprising (not that the highly praised ensemble of Furious 7 weren’t!), but that they all willingly turn to the good side along with their pal Scott isn’t. Meanwhile, Hank Pym gets to play the role of patriarchy, holding back his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) from becoming a superhero so he can substitute Generic Handsome Dude instead. Given that there’s no way Disney is touching the character’s infamous domestic violence from the comics, it’s a nicely PG way of making him come off as a misogynist who’s still ultimately on the right side, and redeemable.
Ant-Man features two credits scenes, the second of which feels so off-topic and had such poor audio I had to look up online spoilers to figure out what was going on. Ultimately, I’m less interested in Scott Lang being in Avengers movies than I would be in further ant-sized battles – if you were thinking his full helmet might make him the first Marvel movie character with a fully secret identity and thus perfect for Civil War, you’d be wrong, as more people than could plausibly keep a secret know who he is by movie’s end. Ant-Man is more of an all-out comedy than any Marvel movie to date, and it’s understandable why Edgar Wright might have wanted to keep it insulated as a result – that Reed manages to make it feel that way most of the time even when it isn’t is a deft feat indeed.
And parents, be forewarned – take your kids to this and they will never permit you to kill an ant again.