You will believe that a man can ant.
Fresh out of prison after serving a sentence for a modern-day Robin Hood re-distribution of digital wealth, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) tries to make a clean break from crime to earn visitation rights to his daughter from her mother (Judy Greer). When his possibilities for a legal job fall short of his income requirements, Scott breaks into the house of eccentric millionaire Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) on a tip to crack a hidden vault…only finding an unusual suit and helmet inside. Learning that the suit’s wearer has the ability to shrink down to the size of an ant, Scott willingly becomes the pawn in a plan to stop a meglomaniac from selling similar technology to the highest bidder…but he’s also keenly aware of the truth: his best job qualification is being expendable.
Fans of the Ant-Man comic will find plenty of winks and nods to his history, details slowly unveiled throughout the film; many of the revelations won’t be surprises for True Believers, but their order and their place in the Marvel Universe mixes in well with the current alternative MCU continuity. The biggest treat is the imaginative training and combat scenes, shifting from large to small-scale while incorporating memorable and hilarious product placements (sneaky Marvel!) It has been revealed that this isn’t the beginning of Phase 3 but rather the end of Phase 2; you’ll see once again just how far in advance Marvel must be planning these things for all of these plot points to fall so well into place (something that may have contributed to original director Edgar Wright exiting the project with only a writing credit).
With few expectations, this film was good in all the ways we’ve come to expect Marvel Studios films to be: tragic, heroic, and just self-aware enough not to take itself too seriously. Of course there are super cameos, two during/after credits scenes (you’ll want to see those), but does every Marvel movie have to blow up some kind of corporate headquarters or government building? It’s officially become “a thing” like helicarrier crashes. Rudd and Lilly do an adequate job (enjoyed her character, hated the wig) and Michael Douglas steals every scene he’s in. While several of these origin stories deal with well-meaning characters doing the wrong or illegal thing for the right reasons, this is the first time a would-be hero starts off as a convicted felon; it’s nice to see the not-entirely bad guys get the chance to do a little good (in spite of more than a few fallback stereotypes).
Evangeline Lilly plays a mostly benign role as Pym’s naysaying daughter, but like all potential love interests for the hero, she comes around (read: “bleh”). Fortunately, that’s not the only reason Marvel hired the actress (you’ll see) and she’s sure to turn up again in Phase 3. If there’s anything that hurts this film, it’s a distinct lack of risk taking; while the story is straight-forward with almost no dramatic complications, it’d be nice to see more innovation before it becomes too obvious the same plot structure keeps getting beautiful new coats of paint. The cleverness is in finding new ways to tell a similar story in multiple ways, and that’s pretty much what Marvel has been doing since they got into the comics business. Still, if you were on the fence or indifferent after the Edgar Wright directing fallout and over-anticipation of this film’s importance, rest assured Marvel delivers once again.
(a three skull recommendation out of four)