We’ve come a long way since we saw that test footage of Ant-Man screened by Edgar Wright at the San Diego Comic Con in 2012. It took only 2 years before the announcement that due to “differences in their vision of the film” Wright would be departing. Then, only a week later, Adam McKay (Anchorman, Step Brothers) was in negotiations and pulled out the very next day. Joss Wheedon tweeted a picture wielding a Cornetto. Jon Favreau even stepped in with a few words. Just what was going on over at Marvel? Although fans understood there must be something of a singular vision in order to ensure the jigsaw of the Marvel Cinematic Universe would sit neatly, was there a danger that the tail was starting to wag the raccoon? There were hints of this in the candid-diplomacy of Wheedon’s interviews following Avengers Age of Ultron, but following the rip-rawing successes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier (injecting somewhat serious espionage into the MCU) and Guardians of the Galaxy (the surprise sci-fi breakout) we all started to worry that Ant-Man would be the lesser movie concluding Phase 2.
We needn’t have worried. It turns out that Ant-Man is, in fact, something old and something new. It echoes some of what made the original Iron Man fresh while being it’s own “heist” movie leanings. It sits nicely in the MCU while really becoming it’s own an(t)animal. It’s probably the most successful Marvel film since Guardians of not being laden with what else is going on in the other films. Those that like their cannon will not be disappointed either. The opening shot of the under-construction Triskellion, and the meeting held within, will have the nerds knowingly nod in approval, while also setting up motivations and mysteries to follow. There are mentions and even a set-piece cameo. That being said, as is it’s name-sake, Ant-Man does what it can to tell a smaller story of Scott Lang – a criminal with a heart of gold, down on his luck since being released from prison. Unlike the other origin stories of the MCU, Scott is already inherently good. So, although he doesn’t necessarily have to redeem himself in the narrative sense, he does feel the need to prove it to those around him. Not only does he need to prove it to his ex and and her cop fiancée, so he can see his daughter, he actually wants to fly-straight.
If any of this is sounding familiar, it’s because this is a tried and tested story. One of the criticisms you can level at Ant-Man is that it’s by the numbers. Yet, this is a film that seems unapologetic in it’s using a template and, in much subtler way than in the likes of Ocean’s Eleven, doesn’t wink at you while doing it. It uses the devices to move the story along and get you where you really want to be going. For the most part it’s pretty successful at it. By this point it’s difficult to tell which part belonged to whom after Ant-Man ‘s lengthy gestation to screen, but it’s equal to the sum of it’s parts. The nods to training montages are fun and fit into the conceits that are set up. There are occasions however where things feel a little rushed. There are a few beats that would carry a little more weight if we had lingered a little more at the set up.
It’s also a relief to see a pretty-much new cast in a Marvel movie. Paul Rudd manages to bring something a little different to our hero, that’s equal parts charming and sincere. As fun as they are we’ve had our fill of Stark’s arrogance or Quill’s roguishness and it’s easy to get behind someone that feels a little more real to us. Michael Douglas too, adds a lot of weight to the heavy-hearted Hank Pym and does a great job of supplying so much more to what would otherwise be the expositions old sage.
There’s been some carping regarding the use of the characters representing minorities in Ant-Man. More specifically Michael Pena’s Luis. However, this is no more a stereotype of latinos as it is a stereotype of comic relief. Any more than Hope is a love interest rather than a representation of whites. Fact of the mater is; the cast that surround Rudd are just as much fun to watch and actually help pull it off. Rather than tired heist movie, we get a refreshing genre mix.
The only person that does suffer from the pace is villain Darren Cross. Corey Stoll, who gave a stellar turn in House of Cards, is given little to do in order to stop him from being little more than a 3rd act bad guy. The cackling villain he gladly is not, but a little more care, or leaving less of him on the cutting room floor, would have given us more understanding to his motives.
Ant-Man manages to take us along for the ride in spite of it’s troubled development or the hurdles it faces in it’s clichés. It doesn’t so much invite you along for the ride as whisks you away fearlessly.
4* – Standing (Not So) Tall