"Just a tall-tale”

You can tell as soon as it happens where the Marvel machine broke Edgar Wrightand Joe Cornish, the two guys who had been developing Ant-Man to their singular vision since before the Cinematic Universe’s cohesive arc began. It’s a funny cameo with an Avenger, one where Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) attempts to steal a device that’s supposedly important to burgling the main prize for which Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) recruited him in the first place. Cute, entertaining, and paid off by the second of two brilliantly conceived erratic stories from Michael Peña‘s Luis, it’s main purpose is to hint at the upcoming Captain America: Civil War. I get it: Marvel has their story to tell and Wright had his. Sometimes they don’t quite run parallel and one concession only opens the door for more.

In the aftermath of the two parties’ creative difference-fueled dissolution is an Ant-Man directed by Peyton Reed (who does a good job with a lot more special effects than he’s used to utilizing) that retains the backbone of what Wright and Cornish initially created. Alongside them in the writing credits is funnyman Adam McKay and star Rudd whom I can only assume helped facilitate Marvel’s checkpoints as well as punched up the dialogue for a more jokey tone than even Guardians of the Galaxy possessed. Let me say right now that this isn’t a bad thing. In fact, the addition of McKay’s Anchorman-esque one-liners fits the subject matter and target audience very well. After all, this thing’s about a suit that shrinks its wearer to the size of an insect so he can ride and control ants.

Thankfully the filmmakers embrace the absurdity of this and allow a more cartoonish comic book feel than the semi-serious route we’ve experienced previously from the studio. Rudd is a big factor in this too because his timing and delivery are perfectly tailored to deadpanned awkward silences and the type of scale-shifting humor that allows a huge microscopic battle on top of a Thomas the Tank Engine toy culminate in the whimper of tiny plastic cars falling of their track. We aren’t supposed to worry about alien invasions or the impending rift between Iron Man and Captain America. Ant-Man provides us an escape from all that to become as much a standalone entry as is possible in this over-arching franchise. Neither Thanos nor Nick Fury shoehorns his way in because it’s all about Hank Pym and his legacy.

This entails a heist—plain and simple. Pym’s invention of a particle that can shorten and widen the gap between atoms and facilitate rapid growth and shrinkage was purposefully mothballed so the likes of power-hungry bureaucrats (Martin Donovan‘s Mitchell Carson) and competitive associates (John Slattery‘s reprisal of older Howard Stark) couldn’t purposefully or accidentally place it into the wrong hands. Two-plus decades weren’t enough to excise the breakthrough, though, and Pym’s former protégée—who now controls the aging scientist’s company—Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is close to cracking it again. Knowing the potential ramifications, Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) puts aside her differences with her father to stop Cross before it’s too late. Not wanting to see her get hurt, Hank decides to find someone else capable of donning his old suit to become the Ant-Man once more.

And for whatever reason this someone is Scott Lang: the divorced father of young Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) who recently became a free man after serving three years at San Quentin for playing a hacktivist Robin Hood. He’s a man looking for redemption and the kind of dad desperately trying to make up for lost time that Hank can relate. Lang isn’t the least qualified for the job with a Masters degree in electrical engineering, but he is a bit of a screw-up who has difficulty pushing past obstacles thrown in his way. So a majority of the film is his training to become who Hank and Hope need him to be as well as whom Cassie believes he already is. This allows for some cool sequences running in the dirt or flying through the sky with ants.

The plot’s therefore constructed on a much smaller scale (no pun intended) than a Thor or Iron Man. If I were to compare Ant-Man to anything I’d say it’s almost a minimalistic version of the latter, retaining similar beats yet refined to not making us knowingly wait for an inevitable confrontation. There are no airs cultivated like there were between Tony Stark and Obadiah Stane. We know Cross is the villain and Pym the man to stop him. Hank needs Hope and Scott for the legwork, but he’s very much still the protagonist pulling the strings. This is crucial for the passing of the torch to be a natural progression without dumping everything on Lang’s shoulders. It’s simultaneously origin and conclusion, a prototype if you will for the transitions to come once actors start hanging up their suits.

I can imagine it all much flashier and visually stunning had Wright stayed the course, but Reed steers the ship well and ensures it remains a welcome diversion from the explosion porn and character overkill superhero films have implemented. It’s about people above plot enough that minor roles like Lang’s ex-wife’s new fiancé Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) can be complex and so Lilly’s Hope can be integral to what’s happening despite her future being the real reason she’s involved. Even Peña’s genius is allowed the spotlight to shine often alongside equally eccentric turns from David Dastmalchian and T.I. as a trio of petty crooks. And while Stoll provides an over-the-top adversary, Rudd and Douglas are best when fighting against themselves. Ant-Man is about second chances and both Scott’s and Hank’s ultimate acceptance of being worthy to earn theirs.

Score: 8/10 

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 117 minutes | Release Date: July 17th, 2015 (USA)
Studio: Marvel Studios / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Director(s): Peyton Reed
Writer(s): Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish and Adam McKay & Paul Rudd / 
Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish (story) / Stan Lee, Larry Lieber & Jack Kirby (comic book)