Ant-Man is the latest offering from the Marvel movie factory, and like its predecessors it is an expert confection of light-hearted, low-calorie fluff: a movie that is funny and amusing and action-packed without anything approaching real sentiment or emotion and that never diverts from the studio’s house style.
We open in the late 1980s, with Hank Pym (a de-aged Michael Douglas) telling the head honchos at SHIELD that they can’t have his Pym Particle. He is tired of using science to fight communism, or something, and can’t bear the thought of SHIELD having access to a serum that reduces the distance between atoms of living things, thus making them small and super-dense.
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We then skip ahead to the modern day, where Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is getting out of prison. He’s a warrior for the people, unjustly imprisoned after his whistleblowing about an evil corporation went ignored and he redistributed its wealth to its victims. Scott’s desperate to reconnect with his ex-wife and daughter, so he’s trying to get his life back on track: for an ex-con, even one whose only crime is loving social justice, that means a gig at Baskin Robbins and sharing a seedy hotel room with Luis (Michael Peña), an ex-con he did time with.
After a series of convoluted circumstances, Scott falls into the orbit of Hank, who long ago lost control of the company that bears his name to Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Cross is dating Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), and working to recover the secret of the Pym particle—a secret he then plans to sell to the highest bidder, regardless of their plans. Oh, dastardly military-industrial complex, what evil plan will you think of next?
Hank needs Scott to assume the mantle of Ant-Man to foil Cross’s devious plan. Ant-Man may be small, but he packs a punch. Remember your physics: If you shrink a person to a tiny size while maintaining the same mass, his density will be vastly increased. In his shrunken form, Scott is more bullet than man. He can also control ants via their sense of smell, or something.
Ant-Man is ensconced in the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). We are treated to an extraneous but entertaining side-mission involving an attempt to break into the Avengers headquarters that debuted at the end of Age of Ultron, and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes show up in the middle of the film as well as in a post-credits teaser. (Make sure to stick around all the way through, as Ant-Man has both a mid-credits teaser and a post-credits teaser.) By the time the house lights go up, it’s pretty clear which side Scott Lang will be on in Captain America: Civil War. Remember: Each MCU film is little more than an ad for the MCU film that follows it six months later.
As befitting its silly name, plot, and premise, Ant-Man is, well, silly. But it’s also funny. That’s not terribly surprising, given that the story was originally scripted by Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright (the British funny man behind Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End) and then given a polish by Paul Rudd and Adam McKay after Wright, who was supposed to direct, was forced off the project by Marvel shortly before filming began.
Rudd is, naturally, great as the humorous everyman, but I hope the breakout star of Ant-Man is Michael Peña. His fast-talking Luis never fails to sport a sly grin, and his comic timing is impeccable. Peña has flitted around Hollywood for two decades now, but with big turns in Ant-Man and last year's Fury, as well as having the titular role in the 2014 biopic Cesar Chavez, it seems he’s poised to hit the big time.
Ant-Man is solid, mid-tier Marvel: nothing spectacular, but entertaining enough. Proceed accordingly.