I think it is now safe to say there is a set pattern to most Marvel movies. Now that we have over a dozen entires into the Marvel cinematic universe, plot points and themes are shared throughout most of these films.
For example, in many of the solo hero entries, like “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “Captain America: The Winter Solider,” our titular hero ends up fighting a foe who has nearly identical powers to his own in a city landscape where destruction is at the greatest potential. The heroes are often cocky, full of themselves but can back it up, especially Tony Stark, Thor and Star Lord from “Guardians Of The Galaxy.”
This is bound to happen when you have a series that has more than ten entires, but this does tend to get a bit dull after a while. When every main character is similar and ultimately lead to a final confrontation with someone like our heroes, you kind of want something a bit more after so many films.
Well, in a way, that is what we got with “Ant Man.” I am hesitant to say so, because we still get a protagonist that leans more on the comedic and improve side, much like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Pratt, but there is enough of differences in this film to give “Ant Man” its own unique flare and presentation. The film doesn’t necessarily break the mold, but it does what it can with the mold it was given.
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), an expert thief and hacker, has been in prison for some time now, and has missed his daughter growing up. Lang promises to quit cat burglary and get a real job so that he can spend time with his family, but finds it difficult for a former inmate to keep a job. When his friends call upon Lang for a heist that is “air tight,” he accepts, only to find there is one item to be stolen – a strange suit and helmet. What Scott doesn’t know is that the suit will transport him to a new world he never thought possible – the world of the insects.
Now Scott must take part in a new heist, orchestrated by the creator of the suit, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Pym wants to make sure the power to shrink down to bug size isn’t given to the military by Lex Luthor…I mean Obediah Stane… I mean Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), and Pym is willing to break into his own company, with the help of his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), and stop power from falling into the wrong hands.
Let’s get this out of the way, the plot is almost identical to “Iron Man” – A man reaches his lowest point, uses his ingenuity and cunning to create (or find) power he never thought possible, wishes to use said power to help the world (most of the second act is the hero testing the limits of his power), but the big bad corporation wants to use the same power for evil military purposes, leading to the final confrontation of similar powers duking it out.
To be fair though, “Ant Man” had to go through four different writers after Marvel’s original pick to write and direct, Edgar Wright (director of “Hot Fuzz” and “Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World”), left the project due to creative differences with the company. So they attempted to make a new hero in a proven formula, which most would say is the best written Marvel movie. Still, the plot is not the most imaginative and is one of the weaker points of the film, especially since it has many of the same character traits between Scott and Tony Stark, as well as the villain.
What does shine through in “Ant Man” is in its simplicity. Unlike most other Marvel films, this one doesn’t try to overly impress us with flashy effects or grand battles that take up whole city blocks. If anything, the effects are not that impressive and every battle is confined to microscopic sizes. This film is more about pulling a heist than anything else, outside of the over arching theme of the film – rekindling family love.
The best part of “Ant Man” is the father-daughter relationship between Hank Pym and Hope, and really shows off how great Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly are of actors. Hope resents her father for most of the film, because he has shunned the outside world after being the Ant Man for so many years in secrecy. When the two of them begin to concoct this heist, Hope insists that she put on the suit. She knows it better than anyone and has inside connections. Hank refuses to let her become Ant Man.
For a long time, we’re not told why. Because we don’t need to told. Douglas’ body movement and tendency to snap at the suggestion of Hope taking an active role says it all – he cares more about his daughter than he does about this mission. Hope is the only thing he has left in this world, and he regrets throwing her out of his life. Hank did the same thing to Darren Cross, who was his apprentice that he never told about Ant Man. Now Darren has taken it upon himself to prove that the Ant Man is possible and that he’ll share this power with the world, by weaponizing it.
Perhaps in Hank’s old age, he is gotten sentimental and wishes to pay for the mistakes he has made. But we watch all of this unfold through Scott’s eyes, and we see him doing the same thing to his daughter – throwing her aside so that he can improve the world, when she should be his world.
This makes the character dynamic of Scott far more relatable than any other Marvel movie. Instead of being this larger than life persona of gods attempting to bring peace to the world, we get a guy who wants to make things right with his family. Instead of overcoming his own ego, Scott has to deal with the mistakes of his past.
The comedy of “Ant Man” is hit-and-miss. Sometimes we get a good joke, like when Scott learns to use his powers and keeps growing while still stuck underground, or most of the scenes involving Scott’s best friend, Luis (Michael Pena). Luis seems to have this permanent smirk on his face, and takes everything in stride that it is impossible to hate him. He’s like if Groot could speak English and drove a van.
Other times though, the comedy falls flat. Most of the scenes involving Darren Cross’ testing his shrinking formula on co-workers and goats are strange and off-putting that leaves me wondering if Cross thought his actions were hilarious or tragic. At times, the comedy felt rushed so the story could advance, but again that might have to do with having so many writers.
But the funniest scene is the climatic battle between Scott and Darren, all of which takes place on a Thomas The Train play set. The two toss toy trains, set others on fire which we see doesn’t look like much from a human’s perspective, and even growing ants to giant size. While this is another case of a final battle of characters using similar powers, like “Iron Man,” this battle is creative in how it uses the growing and shrinking abilities to give “Ant Man” its own unique feel.
Overall, “Ant Man” is a flawed but fun ride that feels different enough from any other Marvel movie. Instead of big battles where thousands of lives are threatened, we get a more personal story of a man redeeming himself in the eyes of his family and the heist that comes from that. The writing and effects are not Marvel’s best, but the comedy and acting more than make up for it.
Final Grade: B-