Scott F. Evans
Of all the various studios in town making comic book superhero movies, none of them quite ‘get it’ like Marvel Studios. They know their properties, and how to sell them to audiences. They also know that the Marvel brand is such a draw, that they can dig deep into their catalog and make critical and financial hits with even C-list characters.
The character has been around for more than fifty years, debuting in 1962 in the comic book Tales to Astonish. Even as a founding member of The Avengers, the character has never really reached the public consciousness in any significant way. At least, not until now.
This is what a ‘fun’ movie should be. Even though it clocks in at just under two hours, it breezes by with a solid pace that never feels rushed. Although it’s the most obvious comedy in the Marvel filmography so far, Ant-Man never plays it broad. Not that it wouldn’t have been easy for Reed and the four credited screenwriters (Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and star Paul Rudd) to go in that direction. The humor comes from character and dialogue, not from situation. There’s also just enough drama, with themes of familial ties and human redemption, to prevent Ant-Man from turning into the superhero version of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. It’s charm and wit that carries this film. This, so far, has been the Marvel formula. And once again, it simply works.
Paul Rudd plays the film’s lead Scott Lang, a reformed thief who becomes the titular character. On the surface, Rudd as a superhero seems like an odd choice. But Lang was tailor made for him, perfectly molded to fit the actor’s strengths. Known almost strictly for his comedies, Rudd is still physical enough to pull off the action here. He’s believable as an affable burglar and later, an affable superhero. Of course he’s funny, but never broadly comedic. And his easygoing charisma makes it easy to root for him.
Ant-Man also features a strong supporting cast. Topping that list is Michael Douglas as original Ant-Man and Lang mentor, Dr. Hank Pym. Douglas brings an old school gravitas to the proceedings. He does fine work here and is absolutely believable as a scientist, industrialist and retired hero. Evangeline Lilly also clocks in as Pym’s daughter Hope van Dyne. She’s the skeptic for much of the film, so it’s largely a thankless role. But there’s a nice setup during a post-credits scene that should serve to make her character much more essential going forward. Corey Stoll is good as the film’s fairly stock villain Darren Cross. He is given a little dramatic weight as Pym’s spurned apprentice and eventual rival, but this is a Marvel film so the villain is practically an afterthought. Michael Pena nearly steals the show as Luis, one of Lang’s crew. Luis is comic relief in a film that’s mostly a comedy anyway so he goes a little broad occasionally. But Pena handles the role with assurance. You can see the actor having fun walking that line, but never stepping over into caricature.
Ant-Man had a troubled production, losing the original director and writer team of Wright and Cornish three months before principal photography was supposed to begin. That Reed, McKay and Rudd were able to salvage it (particularly rewriting the script at such a late stage) and still turn in such an excellent film, is a remarkable accomplishment.
Ant-Man is truly a fun, popcorn, summer movie, with solid writing, acting, directing and action. You don’t have to “turn off your brain” or make excuses for it because it delivers exactly what it promises, another winner for Marvel Studios.