Ant-Manby Alex Stroup, staff writer
Ant-Man has a lot of charm. It has a fair amount of humor. It has a few good action pieces. It also makes almost no sense. Sure, it is easy to follow but if you think about the stated "science" and motivations of characters, nothing makes sense even in the context of comic book movies.
How much you like Ant-Man will depend mostly on how you rank charm, humor, action, and coherence in importance. Keep them in that order and it is going to be a great ride—muddle them up a bit and, like me, it'll be a decent evening of fun but end without much urge to sit through a second adventure with Ant-Man.
Like last year's Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man is pretty much its own entity, with little connection to the rest of the Avengers-related titles. Unlike that movie, it does assume a general familarity with the entire universe and so doesn't explain some settings, references, and jokes.
Official movie trailer for "Ant-Man" (2015). © Marvel Studios.
Back in 1989, during construction of a building that will be later destroyed in a different movie, we meet Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) refusing, very empahtically, to hand over some kind of special particle he has invented/discovered.
Cut to current-day San Francisco. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a lovable rogue of a criminal. You know he's a lovable rogue because his crime was stealing money from corporations and giving it back to the people they took it from. Also, when he has trouble getting a job as a felon, he ends up working for (and fired from) Baskin-Robbins.
Told by his ex-wife (underused Judy Greer) that he can't see his daughter (Abbie Ryder Fortson) until he gets an apartment, a job, and pays child support, he of course returns to crime. Because lovable criminals never think things through. His roommate, Luis (Michael Peña, who steals most scenes he's in) has a hot tip on a rich man's safe—and the caper is on.
Inside the safe a weird suit is found, and Lang suddenly finds himself in the middle of Avengers-level hijinks. It turns out that the house belong to Dr. Pym and the suit is the one he invented way back in the day to take advantage of that secret "Pym particle." Turns out it reduces the space between atoms allowing things to be made very small.
Pym has lost control of his company to an evil Dr. Cross (Corey Stoll), who is trying to re-create the science for bad reasons. So Pym needs a convenient thief to help him and his dauther Hope (Evangeline Lilly) by wearing the suit and ending the threat.
And our lovable criminal unwillingly heads down the path to herosim and redemption.
Let's take the four things mentioned above in order.
Charm – Movie has a ton of it. Paul Rudd, of course, has enough goofy charm to carry any movie by himself but he gets unexpected help from Michael Douglas, who definitely doesn't phone it in on this one (and either time or makeup has made him look even more like his father). They play well together. Corey Stoll is also able to mostly overcrome his character's creaky motivations to fill things out a bit.
Humor – Ant-Man definitely does not take itself seriously. It knows that the name is stupid. It knows that the idea that a man the size of an ant can be a menace is ridiculous. It knows that Judy Greer is a great comic actress. Well, it apparently doesn't know that last item, since they never give her a chance to be funny. Throughout, though, the banter and insults and action are usually lighthearted and tinged with the absurd.
As mentioned, Michael Peña is given the best sidekick lines and steals most of his scenes. Come for the Stan Lee cameo, stay for Luis's recounting of a wine-tasting lunch. The final result isn't as funny as Guardians of the Galaxy, but it's close. It's almost certainly way more fun than we're going to get with the Avengers titles as they become increasingly dark with the repercussions from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Action – Things start to wobble with the action. In the end, much of it ends up just being reaction shots of nameless baddies getting punched by a guy too small to see. Or a full-body CGI suit running through CGI re-creations of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids sets. The charm and humor, along with novelty, sustain things through the three major set pieces but never really deliver a big wow. It is a plus, though, that the final confrontation hasn't been as eternal and bloated as recent films in the universe.
Coherence – The science and story of comic book movies don't have to make deep sense. But ideally they'd be able to withstand at least a couple seconds of the mind-wandering.
So the science. We're told that the Pym particle works by reducing the space between atoms. And then at one point in the movie, things go "sub-atomic." Apparently if you take all the atoms in a human body and move them closer to each other, eventually you have a fully shaped and functional human body smaller than a single atom. Also, we're told Lang can be the size of an ant but still a fearsome fighter because when he punches it still has the power of a 200-pound man hitting a surface a fraction of a milimeter big. Except this apparently only applies to his fists; he is otherwise able to walk and run on things without it having the force of a 200-pound man. There are a lot of fundamental physical equations that need to be rewritten.
As for story, it also doesn't make much more sense. The main example being that Pym, Hope, and Lang concocting a plan for ending the threat of Dr. Cross that, if it goes off as planned, involves killing at least dozens of relatively innocent people. Very unhero-like behavior. Also, there's really no reason to believe that the plan would accomplish anything more than a slight delay in the evil plans.
So there are some real flaws in the script as well as Peyton Reed's direction, but it is still fun to watch the actors and jokes on screen for a relatively brisk 117 minutes (or 110 or so if you don't feel the need to stay to the very end of the credits to watch a teaser for the next movie that you probably won't understand).
- Ant-Man is a Marvel Pictures/Walt Disney Pictures release
- Wide theatrical release on Friday, July 16, 2015
- Directed by Peyton Reed
- Screenplay by Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd
- Starring Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale
- Running time: 117 minutes
- Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
- Alex's rating: 7 out of 10