Marvel Cinematic Universe and the people running it, deciding where to go with the phenomenally successful franchise(s). After bringing Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America and the Avengers to life, the MCU turned to lesser known commodities, including Guardians of the Galaxy (a gem) and 2015's Ant-Man.
Fresh off his most recent stint in jail, cat burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is looking to go straight this time as he tries to look after his young daughter. Lang isn't any old crook though, with his degree in mechanical engineering and his reputation he's gained as a bit of a Robin Hood-esque thief. As an ex-con, he finds holding a job rather tough and resorts to his old ways, teaming up with his old cellmate, Luis (Michael Pena), for a job that seems like a sure thing. Well, it ain't. Breaking into a safe in the basement of an old San Francisco house, all Scott finds is an odd-looking suit. The trick? The owner of the house, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), is a brilliant scientist who's laid a trap for Scott. The odd suit has amazing capabilities as it is able to shrink a man down to the almost microscopic size of an ant and gain access to all sorts of places previously unheard of. The catch is that Pym's former student, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), has replicated Pym's formula for shrinking a man, but his motives for using it are far more sinister.
Okay, one minor rant, and we'll get going. I liked Ant-Man...a lot. It's definitely in consideration for my Top 10 of the year. That said...it's goofy. You have to go along with the premise that Pym and Scott can somehow communicate with ants just by telepathically sending the insects an order. The beauty of it is the entire thing is played straight. The tone is of an action-comedy but just goes with the entire premise. Goofy but playing the potentially goofy completely straight. End of rant. Ah, ants are everywhere!
Like I said, tip your cap to the folks over at Marvel. This was a great flick, fun, entertaining, full of laughs and action with some interesting characters and back stories. It is an origin story, introducing the roots of how Scott becomes Ant-Man but also some history involving Pym's history and his development of the science. Director Peyton Reed, working off a script by Rudd, Adam McKay, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, turns in an excellent addition to the Marvel Universe that -- as mentioned -- did remind me of Guardians. We've got characters we don't necessarily have a huge background with but make them interesting and somewhat sympathetic from the get-go. Sure, things are a tad formulaic among superhero (or quasi-superhero) movies, but why fix what isn't broken? Hugely entertaining from beginning to end in this 117-minute flick.
I love Paul Rudd. He's one of the best comedic actors out there so him getting a crack at an action hero of sorts is great. Following in Chris Pratt's footsteps, Rudd famously said he didn't eat anything for a year to get in great shape for the movie, turning the comedian into a ripped action star. It's a character that allows him to be both funny and an action star, if a somewhat unwilling, questioning star, but that's what the part needs! Rudd's Scott is a brilliant engineer who uses his knowledge to be a hell of a thief. His backstory accounting for how he ends up in jail to start the flick is pretty cool too. In another Guardians comparison, Rudd is similar to Pratt's Star Lord character, a normal guy and not a superhero who's always ready with a one-liner or some smart-ass response but when the chips are down is more than capable of getting the job done. And that's important because Rudd is believable too as an action star. If it felt fake, forced or uncomfortable, the movie would have sunk fast. Lesson learned? Don't doubt Paul Rudd!
Now for one of the more underrated aspects of the MCU, something we just take for granted with one new flick after another...the supporting cast! The universe continues to pull big names in, starting with Michael Douglas in the Robert Redford mode, a screen legend clearly having a ball with the blockbuster flick and a fun part. His relationship with Scott is an interesting one, something I imagine will be explored more in any (SPOILER sorta SPOILER) forthcoming sequels. That dynamic gets some fuel for the fire with Pym's daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly, always a welcome addition!), involved in the potential world takeover by miniature fighters!!! (It's not as ridiculous as it sounds). Stoll is an ideal villain, greedy and sinister without hamming it up too much. None of the four are prototypical actors you'd think would lead a Marvel flick, but there's not a weak link in the bunch.
Who else to look for? If there's a relative weak point, it's the subplot of Scott trying to do right by his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), his ex-wife (Judy Greer), and her new husband (Bobby Canavale), who also happens to be a detective keeping his eye on Scott! The best parts though go to Scott's crew of cronies, ex-cons who are all-around dumb but always ready with a one-liner, including the always welcome Michael Pena, rapper T.I. and David Dastmalchian.
What the Marvel Universe continues to deliver on is the all-powerful special effects. CGI can be a movie-ruiner for me when it's not handled right, but Marvel in general (and here specifically with Ant-Man) has found a way to not overdo it while making what we do see pretty immaculate. We're introduced to the shrinking ability that sees Scott in the suit shrunk down and basically falling through an apartment building with all the pratfalls that would mean nothing to a regular size man, but to a man shrunk to the size of an ant would be life-and-death situations. It's comical but serious as Ant-Man springs back to life-size in a flash. His training montage of sorts as he adjusts to the suit has its fair share of laughs off of sight-gags as well, running at a door where he's supposed to shrink down and fly through the keyhole where he'll pop back to normal on the far side. The visual is pretty flawless throughout, impressive CGI that's part of the action and never calls attention to itself. That's what you want and need for it all to jell so effortlessly.
Okay, startling to ramble some so let's wrap this up. I thought the coolest angle of 'Ant' was that sure, there's some world domination at hand, but the heart of the story is a heist flick. Can Scott, Pym, Hope and crew pull off an impossible robbery of sorts? That's a new angle among the Marvel Universe and a welcome one, not same-old, same-old. Also....ALSO, if you haven't seen, Ant-Man will be involved in the Avengers/Captain America movies going forward so look for a cool appearance by Anthony Mackie's Sam Wilson (Falcon) along with a scene in the credits previewing Captain America: Civil War. So that's FREAKING AWESOME! There's some other quick appearances too so keep your eyes open! In the meantime, Ant-Man is excellent so give it a chance or watch it again!
Ant-Man (2015): *** 1/2 /****