The newest addition to the Marvel cinematic universe might have seemed like an odd choice, especially to those who haven’t read the comics. But rest assured, it would be a mistake to write off Ant-Man as just a minor hero in Marvel’s stable. He may not have the name recognition of Captain America or the wealth of Tony Stark, but by the end of his debut film he proves that he’s worthy of a spot amongst the rest of The Avengers on the big screen. Ant-Man is by turns funny, thrilling, and shows a lot of heart, and is brought to life by some very spectacular visual effects. The movie serves as a great origin story, as well as a standalone feature. There are obvious ties to the larger Marvel universe, but if this is your first Marvel movie you won’t be lost at all. And that works strongly in the film’s favor, much as it did with Guardians of the Galaxy.
The movie opens in 1989 with scientist Hank Pym (a terrific Michael Douglas) squaring off against Howard Stark (John Slattery), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), and Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan), refusing them access to his tech that allows a man to shrink down to the size of an insect via a specially designed suit. We then jump to present day, where former thief Scott Lang (a very good Paul Rudd) is being released from prison. Lang wants to go straight so that he can prove to ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) that he can be the father he’s supposed to be to his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). Standing in his way is Maggie’s fiancee Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), who’s a cop, and trouble finding employment. His friend Luis (Michael Pena, providing much of the comic relief) tries to convince Scott to do what he does best- break into a place and steal things. He, along with Dave (T.I.) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian), tell Scott they have a great tip, and in desperation, Scott agrees. The break-in puts him in possession of the Ant-Man suit, and Lang finds out Pym has set him up because he needs his help, despite the protests from Hank’s daughter, Hope ( Evangeline Lilly). Lang eventually agrees to help Pym break into his old company, now run by Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who has developed a miniature soldier suit called Yellowjacket that he wants to sell to Carson (now no longer with S.H.I.E.L.D and who has become an illegal arms dealer). Naturally Cross represents a great threat to the world at large, and Hank needs Scott to help save the day.
The plot serves the movie well as it allows director Peyton Reed (Yes, Man) to frame the film as a heist picture, much as Captain America: The Winter Soldier was framed as a spy thriller, and this idea plays nicely to the movie’s strengths and makes sense for how Lang gets involved with a much larger scenario that what things initially seem to be. The movie does a great job, working from a script by Edgar Wright (who formerly was attached to direct the movie), Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), Adam McKay (The Other Guys), and star Paul Rudd, in touching all of the bases a good heist movie should hit. We get the scene of the man needed for the job being recruited, a training montage on how to learn the tech (which provides some very funny scenes), the assembling of the crew, and then the heist itself. The clever use of having various species of ants along to pull off specific parts of the job all work, despite the inherent ridiculousness of a man being shrunk down to their level. The heist scenes have a fair amount of action, as do the scenes when things don’t go as planned. The battle with the main villain has some very neatly staged sections, especially one that takes case inside a briefcase that is falling from a helicopter. The effects team made it all look good, and the cast sells it all well, with Rudd rising to the occasion in the action heavy scenes. It makes for some thrilling moments that are handled with just the right touch of humor. A scene involving Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Ant-Man is nicely done, and serves to tie in with the former Marvel movies.
The cast all does very well in their respective roles. Rudd makes for a great everyman turned hero. Douglas brings a nice amount of weight and gravitas to the proceedings, but he’s not without his moments of humor. Lilly plays of Rudd well as Hope, especially during the training sequences. Pena, T.I., and Dastmalchian serve as the comic relief, with Pena standing out with the best lines and scenes. Greer fares better here than she did in Jurassic World as Scott’s ex-wife, and Fortson does nicely at being the cute kid who faces inevitable danger. Stoll does a serviceable job as Cross, and makes his motivations clear for being the bad guy of the piece even though he still, as so many other villains in the previous Marvel movies, feels somewhat one-dimensional and serves as an obstacle to be conquered on the way to the credits. And speaking of those credits, make sure you stay in your seat for both of the post credits scenes, one that occurs part way through and one that occurs all the way at the end. Both are very important going forward and are worth seeing.
In all, Ant-Man is another success from Marvel and Disney, delivering a very entertaining movie from start to finish that is funny, thrilling, and heartfelt. The visual effects are very well done, and you may not view ants in quite the same way as you did before. Action scenes are set up and executed in clever ways, making the most of Lang’s ability to switch sizes. The cast all does a great job, though once again the villain is the movie’s weak point. And of course Stan Lee makes his expected cameo appearance in a funny sequence being described by Pena. The movie serves as both a strong origin story and works well as a standalone feature, and definitely has earned itself a place among Marvel’s best. The package may be small, but Ant-Man has great things waiting to show you. Well worth catching on the big screen (the 3D is quite impressive too).
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