“I’m your daddy, and it’s my job to take care of you, OK?”
-Wink (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) continues to evolve into something we’ve never seen. The fact that Avengers happened is amazing. Pulling characters from several franchises into one epic film successfully seemed overly ambitious. Now in an effort to keep things fresh, the MCU has used several different sub-genres. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a spy thriller. Guardians of the Galaxy was space opera. Ant-Man is a heist film. This is an extremely simplistic yet crafty way to keep superhero films from becoming stale.
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) wants to leave his past behind him and start taking care of his daughter. As a struggling ex-con, he is pulled back into the criminal life by his ex-cellmate Luis (Michael Pena). They attempt to rob Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). After being caught, Dr. Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) pull a reluctant Scott into their plan to stop Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from discovering Hank’s “Pym particle”.
Rudd is spectacular as Scott Lang/Ant-Man. If there ever were reservations about how Rudd would fit into the MCU, they are now wiped away. Rudd’s sly sense of humor and every-man physique make him the perfect Ant-Man. Michael Pena is also great as Luis. Pena steals several scenes throughout the film and gives the film an extra touch of heart. The rest of the cast is serviceable with the exception of Stoll. Stoll is given the unenviable task of playing an MCU villain, and unfortunately fails. It’s hard to put all the blame on Stoll because with the exception of Loki, all the MCU villains have been pretty terrible.
Peyton Reed was asked to take over Ant-Man after Edgar Wright and Marvel had a dispute about the direction of the film. Although I’d still love to see an Ant-Man film directed by Edgar Wright, what Reed pulled off was very good. Reed is not known for action, but the set pieces in Ant-Man are excellent. Lang’s initial attempt of trying to wear the suit is a classic set piece. Reed’s ability to blend comedy and action, as well as build tension, are impressive. Even though the obvious script re-writes make the film feel uneven, Reed’s direction helps hold the film together.
The script is by far the worst part of the film. Most films struggle in the third act, but this is exasperated in Ant-Man. The first two acts fit together seamlessly and make me wonder if Edgar Wright’s contention with the studio was over the last act. The finale of the film is fine, but the audience is asked to ignore several plot holes and silly plot contrivances. Darren Cross’s decision making is beyond questionable, which plays into the villain problem. The story and execution are all ripe for a great movie, but the script can’t follow through. This might be a problem that looms even larger for the MCU. As they begin to strip power from their chosen creators, top of the line writers will begin to pull away from working with them.
One aspect of the story that I enjoyed, but didn’t feel it was completely executed, was the father/daughter parallels. The mirroring of Lang’s relationship with his own daughter and Pym’s relationship with Hope was interesting. I, however, don’t think the execution was complete. It would have done the story and the characters more justice to see Hank and Hope have a scene where they could hash their relationship out. Their relationship problems just never feel resolved.
Ant-Man is a more than competent addition to the MCU. It’s light, fun, and full of action. As much as I would have loved to see an Edgar Wright Marvel film, Peyton Reed did a fine job. Rudd is a star, and so is Ant-Man. Ant-Man is a hero who truly defines the underdog, something that was sorely lacking in the MCU. Marvel once again makes a little known property stand tall. Ant-Man proves great things can come in small packages.