Despite numerous fun connections and references to the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man still stands on its own two exoskeleton feet as one of Marvel's most unique films to date.
Ant-Man is likely to be the most fun movie of the summer. In a genre which is becoming quite saturated, Ant-Man sets itself apart from any super hero film before it. While it packs the same comedy and wit audiences love from Marvel Studios films, it creates a plot different from any other with elements unseen from any of its predecessors. That includes Iron Man, Thor, and even DC's The Dark Knight trilogy.
As an origin story, Ant-Man starts out understandably slow. The film is seeded in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's healthy and firm roots but must also establish its own roots and grow accordingly. In addition to Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), we are introduced to a number of hearty characters, including Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), the villainous Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), and the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) in less than a two hour-span.
Yes, I said original Ant-Man. All the true comic fans who want the characters to be portrayed with justice on the big screen will walk out of Ant-Man satisfied. It's tough to describe in spoiler-free waters, but Ant-Man establishes both Hank Pym and Scott Lang's characters in a manner which will justly serve both character's comic book runs as the size-altering hero. Make no mistake, we're on a Scott Lang adventure and Hank Pym is the mentor, but Pym's character is far from over-looked. The same can be said for most characters in the film. Rather than a single or pair of strong characters, Ant-Man contains a number of names which wonderfully enrich the experience.
The first element which makes Ant-Man so unique is its plot style. It's no secret Ant-Man is a heist movie. To put the style into perspective, the storytelling is similar to that of the Ocean's movies or even The Town, if either of those were to be infused with a sarcastic super hero who can control insects. The plot is extremely refreshing. Rather than just going in, fighting the bad guy to stop him from destroying the world, and living happily ever after, Ant-Man engineers a new formula for super hero movies.
Sure, it's Ant-Man's movie, but Ant-Man doesn't work alone. Scott Lang would be nothing without his crew, comprised of Luis (Peña) Dave (T.I.), and Kurt (David Dastmalchian). It's not irrational to first wonder how T.I. came to be in a Marvel movie or whether or not this extra cast can hold their own on such a large scale. While Rudd proves his ability to work in thousands of special effects shots for the first time in his career, it's the supporting cast who actually steals the screen. Specifically: Michael Peña. Peña's performance is hilarious. In a somewhat self-aware film, the tone is for the most part light-hearted which is complimented by Peña's ability to apparently make just about anything funny. Anyone skeptic of T.I.'s ability to perform under the pressure cooker of the ever-critical geek community will also be delighted to see he and Dastmalchian pair up for some memorable and critical laughs.
The second element Ant-Man has to offer which other Marvel films do not is the strong sense of family. Sure, Thor has Odin, Frigga, and trust issues with his brother - but Scott Lang and Hank Pym are both fathers with unique familial battles they have to fight on their own. Hank's strained relationship with Hope subtly rings throughout the film while Scott's main motivation is his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). What other super hero film in recent years has such a grounded and relatable motivator at its forefront?
The only place Ant-Man hits a rut is while establishing its villain. Stoll's Darren Cross, who eventually becomes Yellowjacket, suffers from a hardcore Napoleon complex and daddy issues. Those problems, tossed in with super intelligence and lots of money, are enough to craft a good villain (which Ant-Man surely does) but in its first act, the obviously evil ambition of Cross bogs down the pacing while we really want to see more Pym, Lang, and Luis dealing with the new-found super power. That's not to say Yellowjacket is anything but a truly menacing and worthy villain for the big screen - he is - it's just the early steps on the film's path to his villainhood are crowded and slower than the rest of the journey.
Villains are arguably the most integral part of any film. A great protagonist can't shine without an equally formidable antagonist. Ant-Man's potential is reached courtesy of Yellowjacket's troubled and menacing role. In fact, he's stronger than most villains in Marvel films to date. No, he's not exactly Loki or the Winter Soldier, but considering the character had to be established while surrounded by such rich others who require even more spotlight, one could hardly find a reason to complain about Ant-Man's adversary.
The rut is quickly overlooked once Ant-Man's focus shrinks. The heist is presented, the plan is laid out, and execution is imminent. The film visits a location familiar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and from there - takes off. The slow pacing of the first act is quickly justified as Scott Lang's adventure becomes one of Marvel's best and most fun, ever.
To top things off, Ant-Man has a healthy handful of cameos from known and favored characters in the Marvel Universe. Concluded with two post-credits scenes with epic foreshadowing reminiscent of Marvel's early use of the bonus clips, there's really not much more an audience can for from a standalone film.
It's as if Ant-Man were created by its own characters - written by the mature intelligence of Hank Pym then directed by the unpolished genius but always fun, Scott Lang. However, those writing credits go to Adam McKay, Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish and Paul Rudd. Also, the real director, Peyton Reed, deserves credit for his work which he ended up taking on late in the game after Marvel and Edgar Wright's parting. The comedy never misses, the action is on point, and the special effects are astonishing.
The seeds planted by Ant-Man are enough to establish a universe in itself. Doors are opened for prequels and sequels and audiences will find themselves running through either should they ever open. Thanks to this new addition, the Marvel Universe is enriched with strong new characters in a more grounded, but equally fun adventure as Guardians of the Galaxy.
Ant-Man wisely builds on the already firm roots of the Marvel Cinematic Universe while its own tree bursts out of the ground. The film quickly earns its position among the ranks of Marvel heavy hitters such as Iron Man, Thor, and Guardians. In fact, Ant-Man is the best super hero origin story since Iron Man and leaves the audience hungry for so much more. It's one both comic book fans and casual movie-goers will enjoy and find themselves rushing back to the theater to watch Ant-Man again and again.
Bottom Line: Ant-Man is a super hero heist movie with all sorts of emphasis on super. Rich characters, a formidable villain, and fun references to the wider Marvel Universe make Ant-Man one of Marvel's biggest spectacles to date. 9.0/10