I thought Ant-Man was going to suck. Plain and simple. We were 11 movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man was arguably even more of an unknown character than the Guardians of the Galaxy were, the movie had changed directors in the middle of production and it was following up an Avengers movie. All of that spelled doom as far as I was concerned.
As luck would have it, the worst thing that happened the night we saw the movie was a little kid that kept kicking my seat the whole way through. Aside from that, I had a fine time watching it in IMAX.
Ant-Man is definitely a prime example of The Tonal Turn with the MCU as it has much more in common with the humorous stylings of Guardians of the Galaxy that it does with almost all of the “Front 9” of the MCU. Similar to Guardians though, the humor in this movie is well-timed and fits the story very well for what is happening and how it goes down. The premise itself really lends better to comedy than a more serious story in the first place, in my opinion. Michael Douglas plays Hank Pym, a genius inventor that created a formula allowing him to shrink to the size of an ant with the use of a special suit. For years he fought crime and/or evil as a part of SHIELD and then resigned shortly after the death of his wife Janet. In the present day, one of his proteges, Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross, is obsessed with replicating the formula and weaponizing it for sale to the highest bidder, a situation that Hank will do anything in his power to stop from happening, even if it means outright theft.
Enter Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang, a recently released ex-convict with an ex-wife and an adorable daughter named Cassie that he loves dearly. When the struggles of a world that won’t hire ex-cons hits him, he turns to his friend Luis, played by Michael Pena to help him find a “job” that can net him money for child support. That job is to break into Hank Pym’s house and crack his very old safe in the basement, but all it yields Scott is the Ant-Man suit. After “accidentally” discovering its powers, Scott finds out that he’s been manipulated into a recruitment ploy by Hank and his daughter Hope, played by Evangeline Lilly, because Hank wants Scott to break into Cross’ laboratory and steal his Yellowjacket project to stop him from selling it when he finally finishes it.
Scott reluctantly accepts the job in the name of keeping his daughter Cassie safe and the Pym’s train him to use the suit and control an army of ants to help him do the job. In the end, the day is saved when the group manages to destroy Cross’ lab and the Yellowjacket suit, but not before Cross discovers their plan, goes on a rampage with his new suit and nearly harms Scott’s daughter Cassie in the process.
So, what really makes this movie work above and beyond all is that it has a great amount of heart. Among our main cast there really aren’t many characters that you don’t end up liking at some point or having some form of empathy for. In Scott’s case, it’s empathy for his situation with his daughter. He committed a white-collar crime and wants nothing more than to make amends for it and be with his daughter and you root for him to do that. With Hank, it’s all about repairing his relationship with his daughter Hope, who is adversarial with him for the beginning of the movie out of resentment for his distance from her. You come to find out it’s because he never revealed the truth about how her mother died and when he does, he admits to Hope that Janet was his partner in crimefighting called The Wasp and she died saving the United States from a missile attack by going subatomic to get at the circuitry. Hank, overcome with guilt then spent the next decade trying to get her back out of the quantum realm and hid his efforts from Hope, causing the distance. It’s also why he wouldn’t let Hope wear the Ant-Man suit instead of Scott, because he didn’t want to lose his daughter the same way he lost his wife. It’s one of the more heartfelt and emotional moments in the whole movie and it’s serves the character development very well.
Ant-Man is written like a well-done heist comedy film and really does a great job of making itself a movie that fits right into the world of the MCU. The Ant-Man suit, the Pym Particle and Cross’ Yellowjacket tech are all things that look and feel like they belong in the MCU but separate enough to keep them off The Avengers radar. To this end, Pym has an untrustworthy relationship with Howard Stark, with whom he worked at SHIELD and who tried to replicate the Pym Particle in secret. This leads Hank to want nothing to do with Tony Stark and the Avengers at all, as he considers his tech to be superior to any Iron Man suits. There’s also a great line about the Sokovia disaster that he drops which as well creates continuity with what had just happened in the previous film, Avengers: Age of Ultron.
VFX is solid once again for this movie and while there aren’t a ton of “fight scenes,” the action is well executed and the display of shrinking and enlarging things and people is pretty solid. The real unsung hero of this movie though is the score by Christophe Beck. It’s sneakily one of the better scores in the entire MCU and gives Ant-Man an actual theme reinforced throughout the movie. The music does a fantastic job of complimenting what is happening on screen as you watch through serious, funny and thrilling moments.
There’s obviously some demerits, none bigger than the villain Darren Cross. It’s not that Stoll plays him badly, he’s just far too one-dimensional despite the film’s attempt to give him depth with a personal connection to Hank and Hope. It just rings hollow and he comes off as whiny and entitled most of the time. He’s definitely an example of the infamous “Marvel villain problem,” where so many of the franchise’s villains fall into one-dimensional plot device territory. It doesn’t ruin the movie, but it’s a weak spot. Much weaker than the humor from Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian or T.I., the members of Scott’s criminal group. This is definitely a case where the more pronounced humor in the movie never kneecaps the story or the tone because of how well it fits.
One very important scene in this movie happens in the middle when Scott is ordered to retrieve a piece tech from an old SHIELD facility in upstate New York that Hank needs for the plan. The twist is that now that facility is the new Avengers headquarters, the same one we saw at the end of Age of Ultron. Scott has an encounter with Falcon that leads to him getting the drop on him with his shrinking abilities so that he can get the device and get away, but the incident puts Scott on Falcon’s radar and leads him to start looking for him. We find out in the end credit scene that Falcon and Captain America will soon need Scott’s help for a future problem. A particularly overhyped problem with a lot of flaws if you ask me. Stay tuned for the next review. I promise, it’ll be a doozy.