Marvel has been on quite a critical roll since 2014 at the box office. Fans have been treated with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, arguably some of the best super hero movies ever made. Enter Antman, the brain child of acclaimed writer and director Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End). Wright, if anything, is a creative powerhouse and when he locks in on a direction for a film, audiences are almost always in for a special experience. The world was given a peak into Wright’s view of what Ant-Man could be when test footage for the film was shown off at San Diego Comic-Con in 2012.
While fans of the Marvel films were hesitant to get excited about how Ant-Man could transition to the big screen, Wright’s test footage quickly squashed many of those concerns. Ant-Man had it’s creative champion. Many eyebrows were raised with casting in late 2013 when Micheal Douglas was cast to play Hank Pym and Paul Rudd was cast to play Scott Lang. The first concern came in the form of a bit of fan head scratching with the announcement that Rudd would be joining the Avengers. This concern was in echo of the early 2013 casting announcement that ‘Parks and Rec’ funny man Chris Pratt was tagged to play Star Lord in the upcoming ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (we all know how that turned out). The other is how the Pym and Lang story would play into the rumored Ultron (a creation of Pym’s in the comics) based Avengers sequel that was in the works. Fans had their champion though. Wright had a script he was excited about and had proved to fans he had a vision. Then, in early 2014, Wright announced he was leaving Ant-Man citing creative differences.
That started a roughly year and a half discussion about whether or not Ant-Man could work without Wright’s leadership that lead us to today. Ant-Man was handed off to Peyton Reed (Yes Man, Bring It On), the script was reworked and Ant-Man is ready to make his big screen debut. So, the question is: Does Ant-Man live up to the hopes that fans had based on the test footage and how does it compare to the other films? Well, I have good news on all fronts. Yes, Ant-Man is every bit the film you could have imagined from the test footage. In fact, there is an entire scene in the film that pays homage to that exact scene. In comparison to the most recent marvel films, Ant-Man is great as a stand alone but when compared to ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ or ‘Captain America: Winter Soldier’, it just does not resonate as much.
The story sets off at a blistering pace as we are introduced quickly to Hank Pym, a former Shield Agent, scientist, and former superhero known as ‘The Ant-Man’. Pym has had a falling out with his former employer, packed up his Pym Particle and is in present day the recently ousted CEO of is own company Pym Technologies. The ouster is Darren Cross, played by Corey Stoll, Pym’s former protege who has become obsessed, to put it lightly, with rumors of Pym’s shrinking particle and his pursuit of cracking the mystery. Which it turns out, Cross has already achieved the ability to shrink inorganic matter which he shows to Pym by displaying his battle suit that he has dubbed ‘Yellowjacket’. The problem and proverbial doomsday clock is Cross’ inability to shrink organic matter which he assures Pym he is close to cracking. Just how close Cross is to cracking the secret is relayed to Pym by his mole found in his not quite so estranged daughter Hope van Dyne, played by Evangeline Lilly. Pym’s objective is now clear, Cross must be stopped. But how? Enter Scott Lang, mechanical engineer and cat burglar recently set free from prison where he served time for basically playing Robinhood on his previous employer. He fits the role perfectly for Pym’s needs and after much a do, Pym decides to mentor Lang as the new Ant-Man.
If that feels like a massive plot for the allotted time, you would be right. The narrative does not stop there. The writers and director also have the challenge of introducing us to the characters without the luxury of a traditional origin story, incorporate this story into the larger Avengers story with Ant-Man already confirmed for next summer’s ‘Captain America: Civil War’, and all while still showing character growth between Pym, Lang, and Hope. While this may seem daunting, Ant-Man achieves each of these task and still remains to be a fun and action filled ride. While initially a little overwhelming, once Scott and Pym assume their mentor/apprentice roles Ant-Man really hits its stride.
One of the strengths of the film is the spot on casting. Rudd is fantastic as Lang, bringing his own brand of humor to the role but still being a believable character and even pulls off some pretty impressive stunts himself. Douglas is a stoic yet very enjoyable Pym and brings a very Mr. Miyagi vibe to the role. Evangeline Lilly is fantastic as Hope and her acting and character really serves as a lynch pin for the rest of the characters in the film so it was imperative that she succeed and she nails it. The casting of Corey Stoll as Darren Cross was the right choice, but as with many Marvel films, the the villain is the most lackluster part of the film. While the acting was fine, the Cross just never had the opportunity to build into a menacing villain and was the only portion where the film really misses.
The story has a surprising amount of warmth to it focusing on the bond between father and daughter quite often. Lang ultimately takes on the mantle of Ant-Man to be a man that his daughter Cassie, played by the adorable Abby Ryder Fortson, can be proud of. The conviction which Lang displays by being willing to lay down his life for his daughter is incredibly tangible and touching while never overtly beating you over the head with it and really adds a lot of depth to the character.
One advantage that this film has with it’s massive narrative goal is a feeling of universal enjoyment for the whole audience. The Marvel films have become behemoths with references to several other movies and story arcs intertwining and referencing each other. Ant-Man’s script is straight forward and direct with very few outside references which leads to this being one of the most friendly and approachable additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in years.
The place where the film really shines is when Ant-Man is on screen. The way that the film plays with prospective and scale as Lang shrinks to ant size is an absolute marvel. Equally impressive is the way the film utilizes Lang’s disorientation with the scale to it’s advantage translating the feeling to the audience extremely well through some very fun action sequences. Marvel even manages to make a horde of ants, normally a skin crawling notion, eventually be a lovable and amazing asset to the story.
The final fight scene of the film is possibly one of the most impressive and imaginative in Marvel Cinematic history. Capitalizing on the powers the suits provide to Ant-Man and Yellowjacket we are treated to an amazing fight jumping back and forth between scale causing things to go from harmless toy to massive set piece in an instant. It’s through this ingenious use of the suits powers that it feels like Director Peyton Reed both adds his own flair and also pays homage to the vision that Wright championed so many years ago.
As the film comes to an end, you can run through the impressive check list of goals this movie set out to achieve and check them all off one after another. This is undoubtedly a Peyton Reed creation but it definitely has a style that would be right at home in an Edgar Wright film, delivering on all the promise the idea displayed years ago. Rudd shines in his role as Scott Lang and will fit right into the larger cast of Avengers. It will be interesting to see which side of the isle his character falls in Civil War next summer. While at times it felt rushed, Ant-Man tells a fantastic story from top to bottom with the fun and excitement you have come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Ant-Man is a must see and well worth your time this summer.