Marvel Scales Down With ‘Ant-Man’ (FILM REVIEW)


As much as I’ve made no bones about my love and appreciation for all things Marvel, the experience of Age of Ultron left much to be desired in my mind. It seemed, then, that the franchise was at a tipping point, where the unending cross-media saturation that Marvel has perfected over the last seven years had finally come to a head. Something was missing from the experience, something innately Marvel, that prevented me from enjoying the movie as much as I had anticipated. For all the universe changing bombs dropped in that outing, there was a certain Marvel joie de vivre I found to be lacking and it left me wondering if we might be looking at an end to the studio’s reign as champion purveyors of unabashed fun.

It was with this mindset that I entered Ant-Man, Marvel’s latest thread in its ever increasing cinematic universe, and whether or not my lowered expectations had anything to do with how I viewed the movie (indeed, for Ultron, my expectations were sky high) one thing was readily apparent: Marvel’s still got it. While far from being the best of the MCU canon (that distinction will, no doubt, belong to Guardians of the Galaxy for a good, long while) Ant-Man is, above everything else, fun, exactly as a comic book movie should be.

Perhaps it’s not really surprising that the studio decided to scale back towards something a bit smaller this go around. Even I have gotten weary of seeing the planet threatened, the stakes ever rising, and the universe endangered. There’s something passé about seeing another alien attempt a takeover or another godlike villain enact their nefarious schemes, don’t you think? For all that fun that I’ve had watching Marvel’s march through the cinema, the formula had begun to fade and the cracks in the façade had begun to show. Ant-Man scales things back considerably, creating a film that’s shockingly small in scope, especially for a franchise that isn’t afraid to drop an entire city from the sky.

Paul Rudd stars as newly released ex-con Scott Lang, a sort of Robin Hood criminal who brought down a major corporation involved in unethical dealings. Try though he might to walk the straight and narrow in order to prove to his young daughter that he’s the hero she thinks he is, it ain’t easy out there for a man with a record. With the pressure rising after a series of setbacks, he’s convinced by his friends Luis (Michael Pena), Dave (rapper T.I.), and Kurt (David Dastmalchian) to crew up for one last job. Unfortunately, the job involves robbing the safe of an old nobody named Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who, unbeknownst to Scott and company, used to work with S.H.I.E.L.D. as the superhero Ant-Man. Now, Lang is forced to choose between a return to prison or working for Pym to become the new Ant-Man, using both Pym’s shrinking technology and burglar expertise to help Pym takedown his former protégé.

What’s remarkable about Ant-Man is the way it manages to feel like a Marvel movie without necessarily falling into the Marvel movie traps. This is a testament to the patient and careful world building the studio has performed since the release of Iron Man in 2008; the universe has become so vast that now they’re able to tell basically whatever kind of story they want and get away with it. This transition is jarring at first, and it does take the movie an act before it finds its footing, but the end result is a movie that’s every bit as fun as anything else they’ve produced while being completely different. It’s a heist movie, at its core, and it was, at times, easy to forget that they hid a superhero movie into that formula.

Much of this is due to the original script provided by Edgar Wright, who famously left the director’s chair over artistic differences late last year. Presumably, Wright wanted Ant-Man to stand on its own, without the usual Marvel flair—no callbacks, no references; just a standalone piece that was not beholden to the larger universe. Marvel, of course, couldn’t have that. There are a few moments in the movie that feel pigeonholed in and I’m fairly confident you’ll know them when you see them. But much of Wright’s work remains in the final product, and his stamp can be found all over, especially in scenes involving Pena and T.I., who both provided some of the funnier moments over the movie.

Rudd and Douglas both shine in their roles, and it’s their dynamic that really propels the movie throughout. It was an interesting decision, introducing the character as they did. Think of it as sort of an anti-origin story. Ant-Man has been a reality in this universe for some time now, however Pym has been long retired. For all the superhero movies we’ve gotten over the last 15 years, we’ve never really gotten to see the dynamic of age and how that plays into the lives of the super-powered. Pym is too old now to don his uniform, so the torch must be passed. By doing it this way, they’re able to establish the character without falling into the tropes that befall your typical hero origin story. It’s also the first time we’ve seen a hero in the MCU gain their status by having it thrust upon them, rather than by choice (Captain America, Iron Man, Falcon), mistake (Hulk), or by birth (Thor), which will be interesting to see play out as Marvel’s “Phase 3” continues on.

But even if you’re not in it for the long haul, if you’re just looking for a two hour escape from the heat or from life or from whatever, Ant-Man is a great way to do it. It stands alone; aside from an occasional reference or callback, you don’t need to be entirely well-versed in MCU lore to fully appreciate the fun there is to be had. And, in the end, fun is what’s really important. There’s something old fashioned, or perhaps quaint, about Ant-Man’s approach and it feels like a breath of fresh air from Marvel Studios. Oh sure, there’s villainy, there’s intrigue, there’s epic fight scenes between enemies, there’s danger. There’s all the things you’ve come to expect from the MCU, but they’re played with in a way that’s entertaining and revitalizing. It’s probably not going to be your favorite addition to the MCU, but it’s a worthwhile effort that left me smiling nonetheless.

Ant-Man is in theaters now.

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