Directed by Peyton Reed and based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, 2015’s Ant-Man is a blast. It’s a brisk and fun superhero movie, with more in common with the invigorating and colourful Guardians of the Galaxy than the clanging and impatient Avengers: Age of Ultron. Ant-Man is entertaining in a sort of defiant way and that’s really something.
Ant-Man’s cinematic excursion can be traced all the way back to the 1980s, when Stan Lee went to Disney with the idea. It passed through several hands, with even Howard Stern trying to purchase the rights in 2000. By 2003, Edgar Wright had a treatment with Joe Cornish. Things went through various holding patterns until finally Marvel got its act together and Reed was brought in to direct.
The film opens in 1989 with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) leaving S.H.I.E.L.D. after discovering that there is a plan to duplicate his shrinking technology. He hides the technology, making several enemies in the process. Fast-forward to present day and Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and his protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) have forced him out of his company. Cross is close to perfecting his own version of the technology.
This leads Pym to consider a plan to steal the technology, which means he seeks out the thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). After luring Lang and his crew to take the suit infused with the shrinking technology, Pym tasks the crook with stealing from Cross. Lang agrees for personal reasons and begins to get used to the idea of shrinking down to insect size
Ant-Man feels like a classic heist movie and like a piece of 1950s science fiction, with an amusing and light Christophe Beck score fuelling the proceedings. Reed knows how to achieve proper balance and relies on more than just one-liners and banter to kick up the humour quotient.
Reed sportingly replaces the wanton city destruction of other comic book movies with smaller scale stuff, with even Thomas the Tank Engine having a role to play in the climactic sequence. The camera cuts away at the right moment, showing Lang’s daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) looking on at the big moment of collision.
These bits of visual cunning infuse Ant-Man with a greater artistic sense than some might be used to in the genre. The first shrinking scene finds Rudd in a bathtub and creates raging waves out of what amounts to a mere trickle of water from the faucet. Rudd’s character heads down the drain and into another world of weirdness, transmuting common features of living into dangerous locales.
There are many little touches of humour, as one might expect. Michael Peña’s character whistles “It’s a Small World” when he’s undercover at Cross’ facility, for instance, and this speaks to the amiable nature of the movie. Tip “T.I.” Harris and David Dastmalchian account for the rest of Lang’s thieving crew, providing a few more dimensions.
Most of the movie focuses on Lang’s journey to become Ant-Man, which renders Cross’ villain less of an overall threat. His development of the Yellowjacket suit only comes to fruition in the final act, but Stoll makes the most of his scenes. His relationship with Hope feels like it should be more interesting, though.
Rudd is everything he needs to be as the protagonist and that helps buff the edges off the other missteps. He is charming without overdoing it, proving that the everyman quality still exists and can still be used to great effect. While his character does have his share of zingers, it never feels like he’s cutting riffs for the sake of it.
From the magic that turns back the clock on Michael Douglas to the glorious ant effects, Ant-Man manages some seriously eye-popping moments. That it keeps up the spirit of fun for nearly two hours is also to its credit, especially considering how many of its fellow superhero movies run out of gas rather early in the game. Reed’s movie may think small, but it turns out sometimes less really is more.