The Marvel steam engine rolls steadily onward with Ant-Man as the cinematic universe gains yet another face, one that we will be seeing a lot of in the films to come. Even with the bones of Edgar Wright’s original script enhancing the recognizable comedic element inherent in all Marvel films, Ant-Man is superhero solo film Paint By Numbers, all the tropes so predictable by now that we know exactly what the pint sized hero will have to do in order to save the day. Though this familiarity is an aspect we have come to accept as inevitable as superhero cinema releases more films than ever, a spark of originality to keep the genre fresh would be nice, and unfortunately, Ant-Man doesn’t possess enough of it, but it is still an enjoyable film.
No longer a member of the S.H.I.E.L.D. group of wizards, scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) finds himself anxiously on the outside looking in on his own tech company as his obsessive protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) draws precariously close to unlocking the secrets of the Ant-Man. Determined that Cross, nor anyone, should have this power, Pym and his daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) recruit thief, engineer, and struggling ex-con family man Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) for a heist to steal Cross’ work, a job only doable with the help of a very special suit and a six-legged army.
The somewhat dull, predictable nature of Ant-Man’s story doesn’t bring down a cast of great performances all around. Though initially an odd choice as the titular character, Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang has all the swagger of a superhero, and his humor fits in seamlessly with the script’s own. He takes on board the innate silliness behind the idea of a superhero the size of an insect and runs with it, and his cockiness mixed with Scott’s nice guy nature works perfectly. There is also poignancy to Rudd’s performance, as he pulls off the essence of the Robin Hood nature of Lang’s criminal past, giving the character that human aspect so necessary in the MCU. He was a great casting choice.
Alongside Rudd’s surprising performance is Michael Douglas, who plays a wounded yet determined former superhero. Unlike the Starks, Pym has realized how dangerous his acts as Ant-Man were, and Douglas brings this piece of Hank’s story into his confident outer layer to brilliant effect. In his interactions with Scott, Douglas is funny and wise, matching Rudd smart comment for smart comment, and they have great on screen chemistry. Though Evangeline Lilly’s Hope is very much the stereotypical doubting entity within the trio’s dynamic, she introduces a new strong female character that must train Scott just as much as Hank does. Lilly does a good job thawing her character, showing her human side behind her initial cold exterior as the heist draws closer, and she might eventually even give Black Widow a run for her money.
With a strong main cast, Ant-Man was able to carry the wealth of talent into the secondary players as well, with Scott’s thieving friends providing the comedy. Michael Peña brings Scott into each job with tall tales revolving around he said, she said with a wink and a smile, and they have a great dynamic, with Scott as the clear badass while Peña’s Luis is the smart talking “professional” along for the ride. Peña and T.I. are a great comedic team as they provide the nuts and bolts that make the big heist work, though perhaps not to perfection.
It is in Peña and T.I. that Edgar Wright’s style stays very much alive in Ant-Man, keeping it from being too dully Marvel. As good as the performances of Ant-Man’s cast are, their work and what they were given to play with is highly steeped in Wright’s comedic genius. There are several moments in the film where his particular comedic voice shines loud and clear, and Marvel should be thanking its lucky stars that they decided to keep most aspects of his original script. It is these points (Luis’ stories, Hank and Scott’s dynamic, Scott himself) that make the film as fun as it is, and it does make us wonder: if Wright had stayed on, could we have been treated to a film to rival the very first Iron Man? Sadly, we will never know.
What keeps Ant-Man from soaring to the super-heroic heights that it was aiming for are the pieces that deviate from the tonal quality of Wright’s script. Though the points in the film’s script where Marvel took control in order to connect Ant-Man more forcefully to the rest of his compatriots aren’t glaringly obvious, it makes Wright’s writing stand out from the rest. Though it is fun for Ant-Man to break into an Avenger’s compound without previous knowledge, bringing Anthony Mackie’s Falcon into the mix, it didn’t add anything to the story that was being told, very obviously pushing for connection between this film and the rest that have come before it and those that will follow. All this scene and the ones like it allowed for was some additional comedic banter between Scott and Hank while Falcon fails horribly to keep Lang from his goal.
Our first introduction cinematically to Scott Lang and his mighty, mini powers in Ant-Man is really enjoyable despite the formulaic nature of the story, regardless of the shift to a heist that drives Lang into the suit. Once we’re in, however, Wright’s comedic voice, flashing us back to the Cornetto trilogy several times, makes us laugh and enjoy the characters beyond what we would expect from another Marvel film, and the performances by the whole cast work to perfection. It is in Marvel’s desire for connectivity, unfortunately, that stunts Wright’s brilliant script from becoming what it could have been, and we end up with just another run of the mill superhero film to add to this summer’s blockbuster docket.(3.5 / 5)
(Photos copyright: Marvel Studios)