By Ross Bonaime
About halfway through Ant-Man, Michael Douglas’ Dr. Hank Pym mentions that in the Marvel universe, The Avengers are known for dropping entire cities from the sky and essentially making the biggest spectacles possible. We saw this two months ago in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. With about two dozen heroes flying around, cities actually plummeting towards the earth and Hulk fights through even more cities, things have gotten insanely too big at this point, often causing people to cry superhero fatigue.
In Ant-Man, Pym lead Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) into a heist to stop brilliant millionaire Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from militarizing a suit that turns its user into the size of an insect – a technology that Pam has tried to hide for decades from corporations like S.H.I.E.L.D. and H.Y.D.R.A. This sounds like it should be the set up to Marvel’s biggest adventure yet, but instead its major action set pieces take place in bathtubs or on top of a child’s toy train set. In order to pop the bubble on fatigue, Marvel has made one of its smallest adventures in years, one that is mostly successful, even if it does fall into many of the typical, unsurprising Marvel tropes that don’t exactly help the growing superhero exhaustion.
Rudd’s Lang is a cat burglar who has been in jail for years, but upon leaving can’t even keep a job at Baskin Robbins and due to his lack of child support payments, can’t even visit his daughter. With no prospects, Lang goes against his better judgment and plans to go on one last heist. His team, consisting of a scene-stealing Michael Pena, T.I. and David Dastmalchian, decide to rob an older man’s safe. The safe turns out to be owned by Pym – who created the Ant-Man technology – who wants Lang to use his suit in order to break into Cross’ office, with the help of Pym’s estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), to get rid of any evidence of Cross’ research and stop Pym’s life work from being used for military purposes.
Unsurprisingly, Rudd is incredibly charming as Lang. Given that he did rewrites with his Anchorman director Adam McKay, Rudd’s usual voice is intact and his semi-improvised style brings around some of the most enjoyable moments of Ant-Man. Due to the amount of writers in Ant-Man, the film can almost become a guessing game of who wrote what. Pena’s quick recaps of important plot information feel very much like remnants of Edgar Wright’s script, before he left the project, whereas much of Rudd’s banter with Douglas and Lilly seems like something straight from McKay.
Ant-Man does have the unfortunate problem of being a film everyone was excited about with Wright at the helm, to a film that lost a significant amount of its public interest. It’s easy to see how Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) could turn this material into something incredible, yet director Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Yes Man) deserves immense amounts of credit for what he’s able to accomplish, given how little prep time he had on the film. Reed isn’t necessarily known for his action, but he’s able to pull off some pretty complex sequences and tie together many different types of comedy, all into a film that could’ve easily felt incredibly disjointed.
Unfortunately though, Reed’s style also doesn’t veer too far from the typical Marvel style – a large reason why it’s believed Wright and Marvel’s sensibilities didn’t link up. It’s not necessarily a bad style, but once we’ve seen the same type of cinematography and the usual story arcs over the course of about a dozen films, it can make the film a bit blander than it needs to be.
By going smaller, Ant-Man gives Marvel a more restrained film under its belt and introduces the world to a character that fits nicely into the larger universe that they have created. But when you’re given such promise and have it taken away, it’s hard to not imagine how much better this universe could be with a bit of diversity and vision.