A film review by Craig J. Koban July 23, 2015


2015, PG-13, 117 mins.


Paul Rudd as Scott Lang / Ant-Man  /  Michael Douglas as Hank Pym  /  Evangeline Lilly as Hope Van Dyne  /  Corey Stoll as Darren Cross / Yellowjacket  /  Bobby Cannavale as Paxton  /  Judy Greer as Maggie  /  Michael Peña as Luis  /  Wood Harris as Gale  /  David Dastmalchian as Kurt

Directed by Peyton Reed  /  Written by Adam McKay, Edgar Wright. Joe Cornish and Paul Rudd


At face value, Ant-Man may be, dare I say it, the least sexy and most goofy of all of the Marvel comic book characters.  

The whole concept behind this character is rather outlandish, to say the least: he’s a super hero that – via some advances in miraculous technology – can shrink himself down to the size of a penny and…can mentally control ants.  Iron Man is a billionaire industrialist inventor with a cool suit of powered armor.  The Hulk is a green-skinned, gamma ray riddled rage monster.  Captain America is a super solider serum induced patriotic crusader from the distant past.  Thor…is a hammer-swinging god.  

So, yeah, mind manipulating bugs and becoming extremely small may seem like the least desirable traits for a truly winning super hero worthy of our rooting interest. 

Thankfully, ANT-MAN – the 12th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – understands and has fun with its titular character’s uphill battle for legitimacy.  The filmmakers here – as does the audience – instinctively understands the sheer outlandishness of this film’s premise, and they manage to find a way to fully embrace the bizarre and potentially laughable nature of Ant-Man while not playing itself for off-putting camp.  ANT-MAN is a super hero film that thankfully doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it also doesn’t mock the source material either.  Unlike a majority of previous Marvel and run-of-the-mill origin films, ANT-MAN takes a relatively unique and refreshing approach in showcasing how a downtrodden man becomes a costumed purveyor of justice.  That, and the film is a wonderful hybrid, of sorts: It’s a super hero origin film, but it’s also part science fiction, part screwball comedy, and part heist film worthy of Danny Ocean’s team.  That, and it’s all wonderfully held together by a terrific and game cast that honors the source material while slyly winking at audiences by letting them know that they’re in on the joke. 



Make no mistake about it, though, ANT-MAN takes place in and figures heavily in the MCU mythology.  The film opens in 1989 and introduces us to S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, featuring some of the finest CG de-aging visual effects ever conceived) as he takes a moral and ethical stand against some agents that want to use his invention for the wrong purposes.  Howard Stark (Tony’s dad, played by John Slattery) wishes to weaponize Pym’s technological breakthrough known as The Pym Particle, which can shrink objects.  Stark seems more open to discussions, but the more conveying Mitchell Carson (Martin Donavon) has more nefarious plans.  Their meeting doesn’t end well (with Carson being on the receiving end of a punch to the nose from Pym), and the film then flashforwards to the present where the elderly Pym now feels himself being kicked to the curb of a company that he proudly built from the ground up. 

Pym’s competition comes in the form of his former protégée Darren Cross (Corey Stoll, oozing high levels of sneering and low-key lecherousness), whom has nearly duplicated The Pym Particle research, although he’s missing one vital component.  Pym fears that his ex-student may have a screw loose and will use his tech for evil means, so he sends in his own daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) to make her way into Cross’s inner circle to keep tabs on him.  When it appears that Cross is close to reaching his end game, Pym feels the need for action.  Unfortunately, he’s far too old to don his Pym Particle-laced Ant-Man suit, so he decides to recruit a new man to take on his heroic legacy.  He sets his sights on ex-con/thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), whose desperately trying to go straight after being in prison.  Pym sees huge potential in Scott to be the new Ant-Man, especially considering Scott’s remarkable aptitude for breaking into any high security building, which would make him perfect for breaching into Cross’ heavily guarded and secure offices.  Unfortunately, Scott is not in the super hero mould, leaving it up to Pym and Hope to train Scott for his inevitable showdown with Cross. 

The cast is ANT-MAN’s chief selling point.  Paul Rudd may not be everyone’s idea of a leading man/super hero type, but neither was Robert Downey Jr. several years ago as well.  Marvel, if anything, is known for taking severe calculated risks with casting their heroes, and Rudd is no exception.  With his easygoing and nonchalant comic timing, his understated vulnerability, and his willingness to make himself look silly while playing things with a straight-faced earnestness, Rudd is sort of thanklessly and perfectly cast here.  He’s rather finely teamed and matched with the likes of Michael Douglas, yet another high marquee Oscar winning performer – coming after the likes of Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Redford in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER and THE WINTER SOLDIER respectively – that manages to infuse the otherwise ridiculous proceedings with some much needed dramatic heft and gravitas.  Evangeline Lily brings a toughness and tenderness to her role as Hope (it’s also wonderful to see a woman train a man for once in a super hero movie).  Corey Stoll acts as an effective counterweight to the heroic trio, easily making his well-tailored corporate antagonist someone that’s instantly despicable, but a baddie that may have valid reasons for his villainy.   

Of course, ANT-MAN also lives and breathes – as many Marvel films do – on the worth of its glossy action, and on these very levels the film is an unqualified visual effects triumph.  We’ve seen countless films before – with varying degrees of quality – attempt to shrink characters down to near microscopic levels, but ANT-MAN seems to have cracked the difficult code of making these sequences feel authentically rendered.  Utilizing state-of-the-art macro cinematography and cunning motion capture techniques, ANT-MAN conjures up scene after scene of unbridled imagination, showing the miniaturized Scott running alongside (and in some cases flying on top of) insects while dealing with dangers that – as a normal sized man – would be considered non-threatening (a scene involving him being stuck in a bathtub with running water comes to mind).  All of this culminates in a fairly obligatory, but sensationally realized action climax pitting Scott against Cross (now donning his own mechanized suit) in the ultimate winner-take-all donnybrook of epic – make that very small – proportions.  So many recent super hero films (the last two AVENGERS films and MAN OF STEEL) revel in city spanning destruction.  How invigoratingly clever is it that ANT-MAN’s climax features hero and villain battling…on a Thomas and Friends toy train set in a child’s room? 

ANT-MAN does stumble here and there along the way.  The Scott/Hope relationship methodically hits every love/hate relationship arc that seems ripped from many a romcom.  The script liberally borrows multiple elements from been-there, done-that super hero origin films (mad scientists once good, down-on-their-luck men seeking redemption as costumed crusaders, wise and old mentors that must train said men, yadda, yadda…).  Then there is the big elephant in the room in the form of Edgar Wright – originally slated to direct the film, but departed due to creative differences (he still shares screenplay credit with Joe Wright, Adam McKay and Rudd) – and the large shadow he has cast over the production.  Replacing him was Peyton Reed (DOWN WITH LOVE and YES MAN), a director that – akin to Rudd’s casting – seems like an odd fit for a major super hero summer tentpole film like this.  Reed, though, deserves props for assembling his uniformly stellar cast and getting solid performances out of all them that intrinsically help ground all of the nonsensical lunacy that transpires around them.  ANT-MAN is a very, very silly movie.  But the makers behind and in front of the camera know that it’s very silly, which gives the film an inviting sense of self-deprecating charm.  More importantly, ANT-MAN is an infectiously fun thrill ride that embraces its goofiness...and in the process euphorically dares to be different,  something that seems hopelessly lost on many angst-ridden and grim super hero films these days. 


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