MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Superhero/ Stars: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Pena, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Wood Harris, Judy Greer, David Dastmalchian, Abby Rider Fortson, Martin Donovan, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Hayley Atwell, Gregg Turkington/ Runtime: 117 minutes
I think it is safe to say that at the time the first Ant-Man came out all the way back in 2015, it did appear that for perhaps the briefest of moments, the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) looked like it was about to grind to a complete and utter halt from both a critical and commercial point of view. This is because, very much like the Guardians of the Galaxy the year prior, Ant-Man isn’t exactly a “known” superhero commodity. Yet perhaps the biggest reason is because unlike any other movie that had been made by Marvel up to that point or even since for that matter, this film’s road to theaters was one that was plagued by overwhelming amounts of doubt and unease. 2 things that incidentally didn’t really subside when fans had extreme trepidation about the fact that this film’s narrative was choosing to place OG Ant-Man Hank Pym squarely on the sidelines while not having anywhere in the narrative whatsoever his devoted and loving wife Janet Van Dyne who, as the superheroine Wasp, is a key founding member in the comics along with her husband of a little superhero team known as The Avengers. Of course the big blow this movie suffered fairly early on came with the highly reported split between Marvel Studios and original film helmer Edgar Wright. A film helmer who has managed to build up quite a bit in the way of geek cred and love throughout his career that it should honestly be no surprise why people understandably mourned his departure from the project after years of him working with Marvel to develop it only to then be both let go and swiftly replaced by Peyton Reed. As in the same Peyton Reed responsible for such “gems” as the cheerleading film Bring It On from 2000, 2006’s The Break-Up, and the 2008 Jim Carrey-starrer Yes Man gulp. Yet for all the worry that fans, including myself I dare admit, had we really should have put our faith in Kevin Feige to see the bigger picture that we couldn’t. I say that because Ant-Man “2015” really truly is a fun, lively, energetic, action-packed, and extremely well cast little slice of cinematic pie that not only is enjoyable just on its own terms, but also served as cinematic proof that maybe just maybe Marvel does in fact know the route it’s traveling and just what it’s doing when it comes to these truly iconic characters no matter how big or, dare I say, how small they may be.
The plot is as follows: Moving the superheroic action to San Francisco, the story of Ant-Man gets underway as we see that in the aftermath of serving time in prison, a reformed thief by the name of Scott Lang has no interest in going back to the life he just left behind. Instead, he wants to make up for lost time with his daughter Cassie who he loves with a passion and walk the straight and narrow path from here on out. Unfortunately for our hero it isn’t long before he see that a lot of people including his ex-wife Maggie, her new cop boyfriend Paxton, and the majority of the world at large aren’t really keen on giving him the proverbial benefit of the doubt that he so desperately requests. Thus finding himself quickly and swiftly running out of options we see that Scott decides to agree to pull off that proverbial one last job with his crew including eternally optimistic buddy Luis. It isn’t long though before Scott discovers that this heist has also placed him squarely in the path of a man by the name of Dr. Hank Pym. A man who, among other things, is a semi-retired, full-blown reclusive yet 110% brilliant scientist who decides to enlist Scott in a little job of his own that he has been working on with his slightly estranged daughter Hope. A job that consists of making sure that a substance known as the Pym Particle, a technological breakthrough that, complete with a specially enhanced suit, allowed Pym back in the day to become a super-small, yet super-strong superhero known as Ant-Man, is not allowed to fall into the wrong hands. Hands that in this case not only include shady government operatives from Pym’s days as an operative of SHIELD, but also the current head of Pym’s company, and his former protégé Darren Cross who is obsessed with replicating Pym’s research whatever the cost may be.
Now if I’m being completely honest with you movie goer, following a fairly brilliant prologue that shows just how incredible de-aging technology has become this movie doesn’t exactly start on the highest note in the world. This is because honestly the saga of a thief with honor who is trying to redeem himself is a trope that has been done countless times in cinema and one that the movie really does accept way too eagerly. That and as we see our hero make his way through a collection of little irritations, the dialogue in this film which incidentally is still credited to Wright and his co-writer Joe Cornish, with rewrites by Rudd and Adam McKay, also feels a hint of both uninventive and awkwardly dead on in certain aspects. Indeed it really does feel like there is a complete and utter lack of subtleness on display here. Heck even the comedic aspects of Scott striving to keep a job at, get this, Baskin Robbins is funny but man does it feel forced in some aspects. Thankfully, the film shortly thereafter finds its footing and kicks things up a notch and is able to stay there once our hero uncovers, or to be more precise, steals his second chance at getting his life in order courtesy of finding the Ant-Man suit and the intriguing fallout that comes from that which manages to give the narrative the jolt of adrenaline it so desperately needed. Thus, and seemingly in the blink of an eye, this superhero heist film is able to find some solid footing and is able to change into a genuine mix of action, comedy, and even emotion courtesy of such gems as Scott’s training sessions, Luis’ stories (easily a comedic highlight), Hank’s attempts to make amends with Hope despite all the baggage that exists between them, and even the best action beat in the film. Yes it is absolutely ludicrous, but it is also very well done, a little bit funny, and even quite heartfelt for reasons I won’t spoil here.
Now it should come as no surprise to learn that, as with the other movies in the MCU, the cast in this film is absolutely spot-on in their respective parts. This starts with Paul Rudd who is amazing as Scott Lang. Indeed not only is he typically goofy Paul Rudd, but he also gets the chance to show what he can do in terms of action and even a bit of pathos near the end as well thus making for a wonderful addition to the hero line-up and I can’t wait to see where his character goes in the 3rd Ant-Man due out in 2023. I also like the work done in this by Evangeline Lilly who is pretty darn good as Hope. Indeed not only do she and Rudd have wonderful chemistry together, but she also does a great job at being a woman who is this career-driven individual albeit one whose parents were superheroes back in the day and is, as a result, is able to literally kick butt from both a martial arts and business perspective. I also really like the work done in this by Michael Douglas (though in all fairness I do have a bit of a bias there) for giving audiences a much more appeasing take on Dr. Hank Pym since if you know the comics you know this guy has some…..issues that make him difficult to really cheer on as a hero, but thankfully Douglas brings his trademark gravitas and magnetism and really makes the role work. I also felt that Corey Stoll, who was terrific in his time on House of Cards, was a fairly well-done villain in this as the increasingly psychotic and just plain deranged at points Darren Cross. Out of everyone though in the supporting cast, I think the standout for me was Michael Pena as Luis because he is truly funny in this. I mean for a role that was most likely written as just comic relief Pena takes what he’s given and then adds so much to it that quite a few of the film’s funniest moments are possible because of what he brings to the table.
Finally if you are one of those who is worried about the possibility that Ant-Man has no greater ties to the rest of the MCU, I can assure you that is most assuredly not the case. Indeed not only does this movie possess a terrific cameo from a certain S.H.I.E.L.D. operative, but the film also manages to place our hero quite firmly into the MCU courtesy of both a wonderful reference to Age of Ultron to say nothing of the following skirmish that goes down between our hero and a certain Avenger that manages to show that this miniscule hero has since his debut always had the right stuff to stand side by side with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (or something to that effect). Incidentally, as if this is something you need me to tell you, if you are somehow new to all of this stay through the credits for a pair of intriguing nods towards what was on the way for the MCU at that point in time.
All in all I am not gonna lie to you dear reader: Ant-Man might not exactly be able to be the proverbial say all, end all when it comes to all the movies that are assembled (pun intended) together to make up Phase Two of the MCU though in all fairness this isn’t exactly that much of a surprise seeing as the film does, after all, face some pretty serious competition in what was for Marvel quite the unrivaled run of truly excellent superhero films (at least until we get to Phase 3, but that’s another story). At the same time though, that doesn’t mean Ant-Man is a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. Far from it actually. Indeed taking one of the lesser-known heroes and making even a good movie about him is amazing enough, but what Marvel, Peyton Reed, and his incredible cast and crew here have given us is an actually amazingly solid little movie. Thus I can safely say that Ant-Man “2015” is phenomenally cast with Paul Rudd in top form as the titular superhero and a game supporting cast backing him up, but it’s also quite immersive, emotional, action packed with some of the most creative action beats in the MCU seen to that point, and it’s pretty darn funny as well to say nothing of the fact that it really does leave you wanting to see so much more of this hero and honestly if that doesn’t make for a great superhero movie then I ask what does? On a scale of 1-5 I give Ant-Man a 3.5 out of 5.