In a world where Marvel is king, Ant-Man feels like another victory lap around the park. Bridging the gap between one major release and the next, the summer flick is a perfect example of what to do with your b-list superheroes.
Ant-Man revels in its sheer ridiculousness. Where the Avengers and Guardians of Marvel’s Universe seek to outdo each other in an escalating battle of explosions, grim-faced enemies and world-ending-stakes, Ant-Man purposefully takes the opposite approach. It brings the story down to one family, one suit, and one Paul Rudd’s masterful balancing of the serious and comedic.
After a brief stint in prison for nobler-than-thou reasons, Scott Lang (Rudd) finds himself working at Baskin Robbins, the last stop for convicts everywhere. But as the film points out more than once, “Baskin Robbins knows” and Scott quickly finds himself out on his ass again. The company and setting are played for laughs, but Ant-Man never games the same joke too many times, moving on to fresher content well before the audience is sick of the gag.
Our reluctant, wise-cracking hero crashes his daughter’s birthday party, instantly knighted as the cool dad bearing the ugliest stuffed animal in the world. I’m not sure what kid wouldn’t be instantly mortified by the nickname ‘Peanut,’ but Cassie Lang is suitably adorable and provides Scott with sufficient reason to lie, steal, and navigate the treacherous system of child support payments just to be a part of her life again. Reading up on Cassie’s character, she’s actually depicted with a congenital heart condition in the comics, which provides the motive for Scott’s theft of the Ant-Man suit from a wealthy retiree’s ultra-secure basement. I’m glad the film chose to lose the whole subplot and stick to a simple story relatively free of the hero’s tragic backstory; it makes Scott all the more relatable and honest.
In a series of setup scenes that slows down the pacing of the movie, Scott is thrown together with the eccentric suit’s creator Hank Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Together, they scheme to stop Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from creating his own version of the amazing shrinking suit and selling it to the highest, undoubtedly evil bidder. We’re shown the typical training montage of running into doors, talking to ants, and getting punched in the face by a girl. Hope and her father have past emotional baggage channeled through forlorn looks and stern yelling, which leads to the real reason why Hope can’t just don the suit and get it over with – she’s valuable, Scott’s expendable. It doesn’t quite work, as Hope is shown to be pretty much awesome at every feat the role demands. I am very much looking forward to the promises made by Ant-Man’s post-credit scene.
Over at the evil lab of evil, baby lamb test subjects get smaller and cuter by the minute in the name of science. Darren Cross gives Corey Stoll the chance to play the character he couldn’t play in House of Cards, and I wish I could say it goes better for him. There are snapshots of dialogue between Cross and Pym that allude to their failed father-son dynamic, but I don’t believe it’s quite enough justification for the scientist to turn around and sell his life’s work to the highest bidder, all for short-term gain. Pym Industries, which Cross now heads up, seems to be doing fairly well; it’s clearly not money, so what is the villain’s end-goal here? Recognition from his past mentor? The best the film can do is explain how Cross has become ‘unhinged’ and ‘dangerous,’ which really doesn’t go over well considering how quickly he’s able to see through our hero’s master plan.
But nitpicking aside, Ant-Man is a film that doesn’t sweat the small stuff (har de har). The film works under Rudd’s impeccable taste in poking fun at every single superhero cliché out there, and the action scenes are nicely done. Not Avengers nice, but when the last confrontation between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket takes place on top of Peanut’s toy train set (nice display of progressive parenting, btw), you know the movie knows that you know that it’s all meant to be tongue-in-cheek.
Besides that, Ant-Man also excels in tying into the overall Marvel Universe, from Scott suggesting they should call in the Avengers to stop Cross, to a cheeky confrontation over at Avengers HQ. You get the sense that this Universe is really coming together, in a setting where a normal dad in a crazy-looking suit can do his (small) part, while Iron Man obliviously flies by overhead.
I give this easy-on-the-eyes-and-mind summer flick 3.5 out of 5 raindrops.