By Tim Freborg
As Marvel wraps up its ever-ambitious “Phase Two” reinvigoration of its cinematic universe, it makes a puzzling, albeit welcome, decision to introduce viewers to a lesser-known character from its franchise known as Ant Man.
Marvel’s decision to focus on lesser-known superheroes is certainly nothing new. In fact, their live action adaptations of Iron Man, arguably the films most responsible for setting their entire comics film franchise into motion, catapulted the titular hero from a niche fan-favorite to arguably the most popular character in the franchise. Today, Iron Man comfortably sits among the greats like Batman or Spider Man for the title of most popular hero.
That being said, it would be a lie if I said I wasn’t a bit incredulous about Ant Man. Despite my previous knowledge of the character, when I first heard they were making a movie about him, I was convinced it would flop. By its name alone, “Ant Man” sounds almost like it should be the product of a Simpson’s parody of ridiculous superheroes, within the same vein as something like “Pants Man.” While I can certainly recognize the superficiality of judging based solely off a film’s title, thinking that fickle movie-going audiences wouldn’t also latch onto such early doubts would seem a bit naive. As such, the film certainly had to go the extra mile to assert its quality to overcome that initial prejudice.
Does the film succeed? For the most part, yes.
The film tells the story of one Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a thief who has been frequently in and out of prison over the years. Unable to keep a job, he ends up coerced into pulling what should be a common robbery of a relatively high-end safe. Cracking the safe, rather than money, Lang discovers a mysterious suit inside. When he tries the suit on, it immediately shrinks him down to the size of a small insect. After trying to rid himself of the suit, he is contacted by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the suit’s creator, who apparently allowed him to steal the suit in order to test its skill and quality.
Pym takes it upon himself to train Lang into becoming the superhero Ant-Man, in the hopes that Lang will be able to prevent the development and use of another, similar suit being developed called “Yellowjacket.”
Given that Ant Man introduces yet another character to the Marvel Comic Universe, it unfortunately falls into the relatively tired category of the “Superhero Origin Story.” The film once again tells the story of a down-and-out protagonist who somehow finds it in him to be “more than just a man.” The overall plot of Ant Man is not one that audiences will find particularly refreshing or exciting, at least from a content standpoint.
That being said, what Ant Man lacks in pure content, it more than makes up for in skill and presentation. This is by no means Marvel’s first rodeo when it comes to introducing characters, and their experience clearly shows. The film eschews excessive focus on the man behind the mask, in favor of getting audiences right into the action, leaving much of the plot and storytelling to Pym’s character instead.
Furthermore, the film even goes so far as to avoid several increasingly common Marvel tropes. For instance, one of the biggest criticisms lobbied at Marvel’s last big superhero blowout, Age of Ultron, was its extreme overemphasis on its comedy: Characters were unable to go more than a line or two without some cheesy one-liner, utterly destroying any drama the film might have been building.
While Ant Man certainly has its goofy moments (and really, with a film like Ant Man, how could it not?) it recognizes that it has to balance these moments out with real drama, tangible stakes and tense action. This allows each individual element to pack a stronger, more balanced and collective punch. The action scenes feel dramatic; the comedic elements feel genuinely funny. Nothing in the film feels forced or strained, allowing the film to properly breathe and expand.
These tensions are carried in no small part due to the very strong performances of Rudd, Douglas as Pym and Corey Stoll as antagonist Darren Cross. All three actors capture the vital essences of their characters, playing to each of their respective strongpoints and counterbalancing each other perfectly. And while, yes, their performances can get over the top on occasions, they balance with each other in such a way that it never feels particularly goofy or out of place.
While by no means the most original or innovative title we’ve seen from the genre in recent years, Ant Man still manages to be a very solid product. The film is more than capable of standing on its own. For fans of the Marvel franchise, this is an easy recommendation. For those new to the franchise who are looking for a place to dive in, or even just casual audiences looking for something to watch, Ant Man is, despite initial appearances, a very solid pick.
Overall rating: 7/10