I think that the best thing that Marvel’s latest film does is it shows us that comic book movies can be different from each other. We have already had hints of this with their past films, Cap 2 being quite a bit different in tone and scope from Iron Man 3 for example, but in many ways Ant-Man is the most unique film Marvel has made yet. The plot is simple enough… Ex-con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) wants to make a fresh start of things so that he can be a part of his young daughters life again. He makes a couple of bad choices and is roped into helping an older scientist named Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) keep his world changing research a secret. With the help of Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Scott becomes the new Ant-Man and learns to shrink down to bug size, control bugs eventually break into a research facility and stop Pym’s evil protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll).
Part of what makes the movie so much fun is that it’s essentially a heist film. The whole point of the film is not to save the world, least not directly, but to simply steal a suit and some plans. That’s it. And in that simplicity the movie really shines. We are given all we need to really know pretty early in the film and the story never really deviates from that main goal throughout the film. And even though he ended up not directing the film, you can feel Edgar Wright’s influence all over it. The Michael Peña flashbacks/exposition scenes, as well as all of Scott’s criminal friends, are clearly holdovers from Wright and the action scenes, which zoom in and out from the small to the large, are kinetic, well paced and funny; they feel very similar to what Wright did in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. While I would have liked to have seen Wright’s full vision for this film, he is a gifted storyteller after all, the movie is good enough as it is that I don’t find myself missing whatever he would have made. I know that sounds like a backhanded complement, but it’s not.
Paul Rudd does an excellent job of capturing the normalcy of who Scott is. He’s not a tycoon, a god, or a war hero, he is a simply a guy who has made mistakes and wants to fix those mistakes as much as he can. While ultimately he is seeking redemption, it’s the kind of redemption that is much more normal and casual as opposed to what others in the MCU have been seeking. He provides a fresh take on what it means to be a hero, much like Chris Pratt did in Guardians of the Galaxy.
Casting Michael Douglas as an older Hank Pym is kind of a genius move and whoever did that deserves a lot of praise. Douglas captures the secret key to the character; Hank Pym is secretly a rage monster and while that rage doesn’t play out here as it does in the comic books (Marvel wisely skipped the spousal abuse) it’s still there and defines much of what the character thinks and does throughout the movie. The character being older also gives the MCU some much needed depth; we know have more then just modern times and WWII to think about when it comes to events and characters in future movies.
Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne, daughter of Hank and Janet, is great but she feels like a completely wasted opportunity in this movie. How Hope is used and portrayed in this film is the only real flaw to the film. Hope is fully capable of doing everything that Scott has to do in this film and she would probably do it better then he ever could. Hope should be the hero of this film, and the film seems to wink at you and let you know that it knows that fact as well; which is, quite frankly, kind of lame of it. Acknowledging that the MCU has a woman problem but not doing anything about it doesn’t really let them off the hook. At all. There is zero reason that this movie couldn’t have been Ant-Man & The Wasp. I fully expect the next one to be that, if not in title than in content, but that doesn’t really excuse what is a major plunder in this film; injecting her into the climax of the film would have altered nothing and certainly would not have taken away from anything. Marvel seems to keep teasing us that Phase Three is where all the diversity comes to the fore, and that’s fine, but it’s slightly annoying that not only are we not there yet, but they tease us with what could have been. I don’t blame them for it being a sausage fest in Phase One, the goal there was to get to The Avengers and in order to do that properly, you simply have to focus on Captain America, Thor and Iron Man, but it feels like such a misstep for them to not have a woman headlining, either solo or as a tag team, a film at all.
That being said, this film is a lot of fun and for all of my criticism, or because of them and where I think Marvel will take this group of characters, I am very much looking forward to seeing a sequel and for this cast to interact with the rest of the MCU. The movie teases quite a lot actually, and that is definitely a tease that I am happy to have endured. Marvel seems aware that they do not have to tell straight up superhero stories, that the narrative and characters can be as unique and tonally different as comics are. And that can only bode well for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.