What is this, a movie for ants?
Of all the size jokes I could have made – and many have been made since the film’s release – this seemed most apropos.
But of all the comparisons I could make, the most fitting would likely be that of another Marvel franchise starter – Iron Man (2008). Let’s take a look:
- Both have a specialized suit.
- Both are less than the prototypical hero.
- Both are fighting against someone from within their organization to prevent the release of world-shaping (or destroying) technology.
- And, crucial to on-screen experience, both are played by actors capable of comedic delivery and wit that varies in minor, controlled pitch rather than outlandish swings.
While Iron Man was a more widely recognized Marvel creation, Ant-Man opens with a flashback of familiar characters to help introduce viewers to this less-popular superhero: an aged Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell) and Howard Stark (John Slattery), along with newcomer Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan), try to persuade Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to share the secret of his “Pym Particle,” which we learn he is morally reluctant to do. (We, and Mitchell Carson, also learn that Hank Pym doesn’t tolerate those who speak disrespectfully of his late wife.)
Flash-forwarding to the present we meet the modern-day Robin Hood soon to become Ant-Man – Scott Lang (Paul Rudd); an electronics engineer just finishing a prison sentence for stealing millions from an immoral corporation and redistributing it to the clients they had cheated.
As a new ex-con, Scott swears he has given up his life of crime (even if it was for a good cause). After all, he has a young daughter to think about, and his wife (Judy Greer) and her police officer boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale) would love any excuse to keep Scott out of their lives.
Unfortunately for Scott, things don’t always work out the way you intend.
Unable to keep a 9 to 5 due to his criminal record, Scott reluctantly turns to his ex-con friend Luis (the incredibly on-point comedic relief that is Michael Peña) who knows of a job that can get him the money he needs. And, had the job not been a setup by original Ant-Man Hank Pym to recruit Scott, he may have succeeded unnoticed.
But, since most superhero movies begin with greatness being thrust upon the protagonist, Scott is roped into helping Hank plan and pull off a heist with the fate of the world seeming to hang in the balance. A heist that Hank’s own daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), would be perfect to carry out – a fact that is not lost on her. As you may have guessed (since the film Ant-Man likely requires an active Ant-Man), Hope eventually comes around as she and Hank prepare Scott to use the super-suit. So what makes Ant-Man special? Don’t people squash bugs every day?
The Ant-Man suit doesn’t just shrink the wearer. Operating with help from the aforementioned discovery of the Pym Particle, the suit allows the wearer to shrink in size while maintaining strength and speed, which lends to the superhuman qualities. The wearer is also able to control ants by using a helmet that focuses electromagnetic waves and send commands. This last power allows Scott to tame an “ant steed” that he affectionately names Anthony.
Not coincidentally, the item Scott is recruited to steal is another super-suit – the Yellowjacket suit. Darren Cross (Corey Stoll, who holds his own as a villain) is a former child prodigy, having worked under the tutelage of Hank in his technology company. However, Cross became obsessed with furthering the rumored Pym Particle research, butting heads with Hank who had buried it away as a precaution to keep the technology from falling into the wrong hands.
Before long, Cross creates his own version of the technology, ready for militaristic purposes (Yellowjacket). But, having used the technology on himself without the proper precautions, the suit and its particle manipulation begin to have a psychotic effect, turning Cross against his mentor and setting up a dizzying small-scale clash.
Directed by Peyton Reed (Yes Man, The Break-Up), Ant-Man quickly quells any fears of a Honey-I-Shrunk-The-Kids type movie with a visually stunning display that explores the details of our world on a whole new scale. Whether running through a carpet forest, fighting a laser-filled battle inside a briefcase, or falling through the Quantum Realm, Ant-Man brings to life a world within our own.
While entertaining in his first feature, Ant-Man also sets the stage for further inclusion in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On top of an in-film run-in with Sam Wilson / Falcon (Anthony Mackie), end-of-credits clips seem to point to Ant-Man appearing in Captain America: Civil War, with additional hints that Lilly’s character Hope will also be onboard.
Written by a team that includes Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), Adam McKay (Step Brothers, Anchorman), and Rudd himself, Ant-Man tells the classic superhero origin story with a level of humor and irreverence that up until now has seemed elusive outside of the Iron Man franchise and Guardians of the Galaxy.
While some may be pointing to Ant-Man’s $57 million domestic opening as a sign of failure (unfairly, I might add), this film is able to do more with less in more ways than one. (For comparison’s sake, Marvel’s other blockbuster this year, Avengers: Age of Ultron, opened to the tune of $191 million back in May, but I’d rate Ant-Man as a more engaging, entertaining film.)
Put down the Raid, and embrace the ant.
Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly
US Release: July 17, 2015, Marvel Studios