‘Ant-Man’ delivers in a big way
“Ant-Man” is not the best Marvel movie by a long shot, but it does contain the best Marvel superhero yet. In a universe that prizes heroes who hit things really hard with a mechanical suit, hit things really hard with a magic hammer, and turn green to hit things even harder, we have a superhero whose abilities are shrinking to the size of a flea and communicating with ants.
This still involves hitting things a whole lot, but it also involves seeing two ways to tackle every problem -- full-size and nearly microscopic. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a recently released burglar. With a felony on his record, he can’t seem to find work, and he needs a job in order to convince his ex-wife to let him see his daughter. Needless to say, it’s only a matter of time before he returns to a life of crime.
Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has hidden a secret for decades -- the science behind extreme miniaturization. He used to suit up as Ant-Man, a superhero who used this science to infiltrate military bases around the world. Since retired, he needs someone skilled in thievery to take on the mantle of Ant-Man and steal back the secret now that it’s in danger of falling into the wrong hands. Pym chooses Lang, who has a history of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor -- it sounds like a perfect fit.
Evangeline Lilly plays Hank’s daughter Hope. Between an accomplished comedian in Rudd and a screen legend in Douglas, you’d forgive the former “Lost” actress for disappearing into the woodwork of the film. Yet that’s not what happens. She’s the one who really shines here, offering the film its most complete emotional journey and most complex character. She’s on the board at Hank’s company and, at first, her character seems similar to that of Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire in “Jurassic World.” That worried me -- the last thing I wanted to be told (again) is that women can only be good at business if they’re bad at everything else.
Luckily, Lilly convinces Hank, Scott, and the audience that she’s a far better choice to suit up as Ant-Man. She’s the better fighter, she communicates with ants better, she understands the science, and she knows the company they’re breaking into. Hope’s abilities are superior, period. It’s Hank’s own protectiveness and fear -- his shortcomings -- that are posed as a weakness here.
Of course, this still means that Scott’s the one who gets to suit up. It creates the most intriguing character dynamic in a Marvel film yet. In some ways, it deals with the increasingly problematic treatment of women in Disney Marvel movies. It doesn’t offer a solution, but at least it acknowledges that there is a problem.
“Ant-Man” also excels at folding in the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) without allowing it to encroach too far on its own story. This year’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” could have learned a thing or two from “Ant-Man,” which manages to tell its own self-contained narrative while still riffing on the universe of the Avengers. It never feels overwhelmed by a need to be part of the larger brand the way “Ultron” did. With “Ant-Man,” I never felt like I was being sold a toy instead of being told a story.
“Ant-Man” isn’t as well made as parts of “Ultron,” but it is much more consistent in quality. “Ant-Man” is thoroughly good. It doesn’t stand out as something special the way last year’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” or “Guardians of the Galaxy” both did, but it’s very enjoyable. When the action falters, the comedy takes over, and vice versa. It holds up to each of the other origin stories Marvel’s released on film.
Perhaps the best way to describe “Ant-Man” is this: it hits the spot. It reassures me that the Disney Marvel brand is still willing to aim for quirky genre films -- like a heist movie -- instead of simply being addicted to bigger and better explosions. The explosions take over at points, and they’re pretty creative, but costing only half as much as “Age of Ultron” means that “Ant-Man” needs to find other ways of keeping your attention. It does this through story, character, and a lot of comedy. Lilly, Rudd, and Douglas also make one of the best sets of leads the MCU has enjoyed to-date.
Three stars out of four. “Ant-Man” is rated PG-13 for action.
Gabe Valdez grew up in Chicago, went to college in Massachusetts, is a former news reporter in Floresville, Texas, and worked in politics in Oregon. He writes and directs films when he can find the time. Reviews, views, photos and more can be found at http://basilmarinerchase.wordpress.com. Email him at email@example.com.
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