From the first time I heard about a cinematic version of the Ant-Man story, I was baffled. Norse Gods? Sure. Guys who gain spider powers and use it to fight crime? Okay. A woman who can turn herself invisible? Uh, sure. But the idea of a superhero who can shrink down to the size of an ant is more evocative of The Incredible Shrinking Man, a dark 1957 diatribe against environmental pollution and unfettered science, than anything in the modern Marvel Comic Universe. What kind of super power could a hero whose height is measured in millimeters possibly bring to a brawl?
Quite to my surprise, I not only liked Ant-Man, I really liked it a lot. In fact, it’s one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen in a while, with its splendid special effects and somewhat whimsical storyline. Ant Man is the secret identity of very reluctant loser Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who stumbles across the mysterious suit when he burgles the home of reclusive inventor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). But the choice of houses to burgle isn’t quite as random as Lang and his gang thinks, and soon Pym is teaching Lang the nuances of the suit so he can help battle the evil Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who has taken over Pym Industries and is planning on selling the miniaturization technology to the nefarious Hydra.
In the reality distortion field of superheroes, the Ant Man suit has two buttons, one on each hand, that let the wearer alternate between being a few millimeters high and being full size, with the switch happening so fast that Lang soon masters running at a door full speed, jumping, pushing the shrink button, slipping neatly through the keyhole, pushing the enlarge button and landing on his feet, full size. Quite impressive. And when he’s learning how to do this trick, to the accompaniment of many thumps and curses? Very amusing.
A tiny person with tiny powers would be uninteresting, so the other piece of illogic is that by shrinking down, it actually makes the wearer stronger than they’d have been at full size. No, that doesn’t make sense, but it offers a witty excuse for the tiny bug-size Ant Man to take out various soldiers and other tough guys, including a scene where “historical footage” of Pym as Ant Man’s exploits are shown.
Hank Pym has a lovely, if sour daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who still works at Pym Industries as assistant to the evil Darren Cross. But will she side with her father and help overthrow Cross and his evil plans to sell the miniaturization technology? Of course she will! With her jaded worldview — she lost her mother “to a car accident” when she was very young — she’s a good foil to Lang and his clumsy attempts to master the Ant Man suit, and it’s no surprise when a romance begins to blossom.
Rounding out the cast are walking Hispanic stereotype Luis (Michael Peña), Lang’s former cellmate at San Quentin, Kurt (David Dastmalcian) and Dave (T.I.) as the rest of Lang’s mostly incompetent gang, and Maggie (Judy Greer) and Cassie (Abby Ryder Forstson), as Scott Lang’s ex-wife and daughter. Rather surprisingly, there is no reconciliation between them and when the film ends with Maggie still in a relationship with her new husband, officer Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), it was a neatly delivered and much appreciated twist on a modern Hollywood trope.
For fans of the Marvel Comic Universe, there are many delights in the cross over elements from other Avengers and Marvel movies, including appearances by Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Howard Stark (John Slattery), representatives from the evil Hydra, and some rather well known buildings too. The interplay between Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Ant-Man is also great fun, with some laugh out loud dialog. ‘nuf said on that, though.
Which isn’t to say that there aren’t some problems in the movie. Early on I saw a lot of continuity gaffes that surprised me with such a high production budget, and while I know a lot of fanboys will get angry, I felt that Evangeline Lilly delivered a notably poor performance as Hope Van Dyne, daughter of Hank Pym. By contrast, I feared that Michael Douglas would be bland after his recent screen performances, but he delivered a splendid performance as the angry, tortured scientist who has secrets he can’t reveal, even to his beloved — and estranged — daughter.
With less CG than most of the other Marvel movies, a lightweight peril to resolve, an eminently likable anti-hero in the title role and a cast of characters that don’t take themselves too seriously, Ant-Man ends up more Guardians of the Galaxy than Avengers: Age of Ultron, and as it works very well on screen. Go see it, Ant-Man proves to be delightful fun.