WARNING: Mild spoilers ahead – I did my best to keep quiet about the big stuff, but some parts of the film required a little explanation in the review.
I know what you’re thinking – that’s a mighty bold statement you’re making there in the title, sailor. Now hold up, Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers, I’mma let you finish… but Ant-Man just may truly be one of the greatest Marvel films of all time. Of all time!
How might this be possible, you might ask? Well, these folks at Marvel, see, they’ve got this “fun hero movie” formula down to pretty much a science. Ant-Man will likely resonate with movie-goers in one key way that flying superheroes, mega-powered aliens, and high-tech billionaire genius playboy philanthropists can’t – the “same level” department. The “I can identify with that guy” department. The honest-to-God, trying-my-best, life-is-hard-and-I-am-flawed human department. That’s where Ant-Man lives. Oh, and it’s really funny, too.
Quick plot recap, in case you’re unfamiliar: Scott Lang is the nicest guy to ever get thrown into prison, but he did his time and is trying to get his life back together, mostly in order to be able to spend time with his cute little daughter. No one wants to hire an ex-con, though, and Scott needs money to get things going; so, very reluctantly, and with the supportive prodding of his organized-crime friends, he sets out on one last theft. Unbeknownst to him, however, the theft is actually a set-up from one Hank Pym, former S.H.I.E.L.D. big-wig and creator of the shrink-a-dink Pym Particle; Pym was testing Lang, you see, because Hank needs someone to get tiny, break into his former company, and steal the crazy new owner’s rival shrinking invention before it gets used in some seriously miniature modern warfare. Thus, the real heist begins.
Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, and once you get past your initial “Hey, it’s Brian Fantana!” giggles, you’ll likely see that the casting is pretty spot-on here. Rudd is funny without being over-the-top about it, and the scenes with and about his daughter make you believe that he’s a father wanting to do right for his child (it may have resonated a bit more with me, being a father myself, than a non-parental viewer).
The supporting cast is all kinds of good. Evangeline Lilly borders on being almost too much of a background character as Pym’s daughter Hope Van Dyne, but her tenuous relationship with her Dad furthers the parental angst of the film and gives her plenty to do throughout the movie. Corey Stoll is a surprisingly scary bad guy as Darren Cross, the man who pushed Hank Pym out and took over his company; the fact that the shrinking compound he created drives him a little more insane each time that he’s exposed to it adds to the subtly-maniacal layers of his performance. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the trio of Lang’s ne’er-do-well partners in crime: the scene stealing group of Michael Peña, David Dastmalchian, and rapper-turned-actor T.I. are a pretty awesome comic-relief group. They ride a fine line of being almost too much of a caricature of the Latino and African-American subcultures, but they do it with such flair that everyone should enjoy the ride.
Michael Douglas knocks it out of the freaking park with his portrayal of Hank Pym. He is intermittently fierce and vulnerable, and sincere about his interpretation of the character from start to finish. You believe he is Hank Pym, which is especially needed for those fans who are familiar with the more “classic” comic-book version of The Avengers and know that Pym is the original Ant-Man/Giant-Man. Director Peyton Reed (working off a script infamously written by, among others, formerly-attached director Edgar Wright) does a great job of putting enough comic-book-Avengers references into the film (yes, you’ll get your Wasp references, and they are subtle yet effective) without taking away from what’s going on in the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe – dare I say, actually adding to it rather effectively.
Which brings us, poetically, to how Ant-Man does fit in to the MCU. Reed and crew aren’t shy about hitting us with references early and often – heck, before the now-instantly-recognizable red comic-flipping Marvel logo even hits the screen, we’re given an ‘80s S.H.I.E.L.D. flashback featuring none other than Howard Stark and Agent Carter getting all angst-y with Hank Pym, so right off the bat you know that the powers-that-be are working hard to make sure you know this film is relevant. Fortunately, none of it ever feels forced – not even Ant-Man’s surprisingly-extended dustup with an Avenger (I’ll keep the Avenger unnamed for now, in case you haven’t heard who it is). References to the MCU, both subtle and not-so, abound throughout the film, so definitely keep your eyes peeled. And yes, stay in your seats to the very end, as you’ll be treated with not one but TWO scenes, one mid-credits and one post-credits, featuring some more familiar faces – no specific spoilers here though, sorry!
I sincerely hope that you head to the theater with an open mind on this one – if you do, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Is it Marvel’s most serious film? No. Is it Marvel’s most action-y film? No. Is it Marvel’s most large-scale film? No. Is it Marvel’s most human film? I’d say yes. Is it Marvel’s most entertaining film so far? I suppose that’s for you to figure out for yourself – but you certainly should have fun watching Ant-Man and trying to decide.
P.S. You think you’ve laughed as hard as you’re going to at Thomas the Train by seeing that bit from the preview? Think again. Just remember from the comics: shrinking isn’t the only thing the Pym Particle can do for you…