Where does Marvel go for their twelfth movie, especially after wedging the most superheroes EVER into Age of Ultron and thereby delivering the biggest, craziest, most epic super-battle of all time?
They go smaller. And not just a little smaller. We’re talking tiny. Not only does Marvel’s Ant-Man feature the most diminutive of all their beloved characters, but the film itself feels a whole lot smaller than its predecessors — which actually turns out to be a good thing. It’d be impossible for each successive Marvel movie to get bigger, louder, and more jam-packed with new faces, which is part of what makes Ant-Man such a nice change of pace. Sure, you’ll still get plenty of chases, brawls, explosions, and colorful chaos but, thanks in large part to director Peyton Reed (of the still-excellent Down with Love), Ant-Man also succeeds on simpler terms: as a character piece, as a light comedy, as a heist movie, and (particularly in Act III) a full-bore, butt-kicking, sci-fi action flick.
Given that Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is new to the Marvel movie world, it only makes sense that we start out with an “origin story.” Lang is an ex-con, a devoted dad, and an all-around nice guy — but he’s forced to take up his old burgling habits in an effort to make some money and provide for his adorable little girl. Lang finds a mysterious outfit after cracking a particularly tough safe — and he quickly comes to realize that the suit can make him turn super-small at the press of a button. It turns out that the owner of the suit has been keeping an eye on Scott Lang; the mysterious Dr. Pym (Michael Douglas) promptly enlists the affable thief for a mission: steal a (different but similar) super-suit from an evil madman who wants to sell it to the highest bidder. Oh, and Scott also gains the power to control ants. Yeah. It’s pretty cool. Especially when he’s in “small” mode.
That’s pretty much it, story-wise, and it’s the relatively straightforward approach to the tale that makes Ant-Man seem like a brief but very welcome respite from all the intricate soap opera-style shenanigans that have been set down in previous entries like Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron. Aside from one energetic but editorially clunky fight scene and the requisite post-credits teasers, Ant-Man seems more than content to simply play in its own back yard and let the other Marvel heroes take a break. It seems obvious that Ant-Man will soon be joining Iron Man, Captain America, and the rest of the super squad in future films, but for now this lesser-known hero takes center stage and delivers a good deal of fun.
Aside from Rudd’s low-key, funny, and typically charming lead performance, Ant-Man offers a generous batch of entertaining performances. Douglas adds a nice dash of old-school class to the Marvel universe (sort of like Robert Redford did a few movies back); Corey Stoll is clearly having fun with his villainous role; Evangeline Lilly adds a healthy amount of attitude (albeit in an oddly underwritten role) as Pym’s intense daughter Hope; and Michael Peña, as Scott’s enthusiastic partner in crime, pops up to provide comic relief at the best possible moments.
One of the most interesting — and probably appealing — things about Ant-Man is that, while it will certainly appeal to loyal Marvel fans (and in several clever ways), it also works surprisingly well as “just” a standalone movie. You don’t need to know anything about the last several films, the gigantic cast of Marvel-ous characters, or what planet Thor comes from to enjoy the fast-paced, character-based, and appreciably energetic goings-on in Ant-Man. As the final film in Marvel’s “Phase II” chapter, Ant-Man might not be the most earth-shattering superhero movie to hit the screens recently, but it’s certainly one of the slickest, sweetest, and funniest. And that’s certainly good enough for me.
Rating: 4 out of 5 size-changing burritos
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And for a little more silliness, watch the cast of Ant-Man play “Ant Fact or Man Fact”: