Ant-Man Director: Peyton Reed
Writers: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd
Cast: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Michael Peña, Michael Douglas Walt Disney Pictures | Marvel Studios
Rated PG-13 | 117 Minutes
Release Date: July 17, 2015
“I think our first move should be calling The Avengers…”
An unexpected mix of Innerspace, Matinee, and Small Soldiers, Ant-Man feels like the kind of superhero movie Joe Dante might have made in the ’90s. The final entry in “Phase Two” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man is a playful sci-fi caper that blends fantastical special effects with an offbeat sense of humor.
Directed by Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Yes Man), Ant-Man stars Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, an ex-con serving up Mango Fruit Blasts at Baskin-Robbins and sharing an apartment with his former cellmate, Luis (Michael Peña). Behind on child support payments, Lang joins Luis and his crew (Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian) on one last job: breaking into the home of Dr. Henry “Hank” Pym (Michael Douglas), a scientist and former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.
During the Cold War, Pym and his wife, Janet van Dyne, battled Soviet spies as Ant-Man and Wasp, a pair of insect-controlling, half-inch heroes. This was made possible by Pym’s discovery of what he calls “Pym Particles” – subatomic particles that can radically shrink or enlarge objects. After breaking into Pym’s high-tech vault, Lang discovers the Ant-Man technology collecting dust and decides to swipe it.
The master thief soon finds himself caught up in a scheme to help Pym and his estranged daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), break into Cross Technologies and stop Pym’s former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from re-creating Pym’s shrinking suit and selling it to the highest bidder.
Ant-Man is a lighter, more casual affair in comparison to giant-sized sluggers like Captain America: Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron. It’s the most simple, straightforward story Marvel’s told since 2008’s Iron Man, but Peyton Reed isn’t the filmmaker Jon Favreau is; he’s a director-for-hire.
After Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish left the project citing creative differences in 2014, Reed stepped in to direct a new draft written by Rudd and Adam McKay. As a result, Ant-Man feels like a colossal compromise – a signature vision diluted by studio mandates, carried out by a filmmaker who lacks a strong authorial style.
Guardians of the Galaxy is very much a Marvel Studios release, but it’s also a definitive James Gunn movie. Ant-Man, on the other hand, is a hodgepodge of styles and tones. There’s some weird movie-math at work here, but it would appear that when you combine Peyton Reed and Edgar Wright, you get something resembling an off-brand Joe Dante.
Despite its lack of visual flair, Ant-Man still works because the character – who first appeared in 1962’s Tales to Astonish #35 – is so unique. The mythology behind Pym’s technology and how Lang uses it to shrink and commandeer ants is engaging and intriguing. Spectacular sequences of Ant-Man flying through keyholes or surfing down a drain on a surfboard made of fire ants are downright delightful, complemented by a charming performance from Rudd.
Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly are excellent here, and I can’t wait to see future installments where their characters are allowed to grow within Marvel’s established universe. Michael Peña gets the most laughs as well-intentioned motormouth Luis. As great as this cast is, actors like Wood Harris, Bobby Cannavale, and Judy Greer are wasted in thankless roles. And then there’s Corey Stoll as Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket. Cross is a mixture of Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane and Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer, and while Yellowjacket is a suitable opponent for Ant-Man’s first outing, he’s still just another bad guy in a business suit.
Overall, Ant-Man is a fun but flawed entry in the canon of Marvel’s sprawling cinematic universe. Fast-paced and funny, the film’s third act gleefully fuses action and comedy into a crowd-pleasing climax, but the first act is slow to start, and Reed’s lack of style leaves a lot to be desired. Still, it’s a solid start for one of Marvel’s original Avengers, and I can’t wait to see Ant-Man’s aw-shucks attitude bounce off characters like Tony Stark and Hawkeye in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.