Marvel’s 2015 summer installment has been talked about quite a bit, but not for the reasons a studio would want. Since May of 2014, when then director Edgar Wright parted ways with the movie, speculation expanded beyond Marvel’s official stance that Wright and Marvel had “differences in their vision”. While the speculation proves pointless in light of the movie being released, people wondered if Ant-Man stood a chance of being any good after childhood fan of the hero, Wright, and the writer/director of many great comedy/caper action-style movies (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgirim vs. The World) left the movie unfinished.
Fears were somewhat allayed when friend of Ant-Man star Paul Rudd, Adam McKay was brought in to write (Anchorman, Step Brothers, Funny or Die). New director Peyton Reed would be tasked with taking an relatively unknown superhero in Ant-Man and making Rudd’s Scott Lang as likable and fun as Tony Stark and Peter Parker, two well-known and witty superheroes, while telling the first single hero origin story since Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011.
Ant-Man’s origins begin with an ex-con with a conscience named Scott Lang. Recently out of prison for stealing from a company to give it back to the people the company was swindling, he is having a hard time landing on his feet. His ex-wife and her fiancé (Bobby Cannavale) won’t let him see his daughter because of his felonious past and his friends only want to use him to pull a heist. Even Baskin-Robbins, his illimitable post-jail employer, finds out about his criminal record and has to let him go. When a prospective dishonest job from his friend Luis (Michael Pena) comes his away, he is initially hesitant, but when no other prospects are available he agrees to use his burgling skills to score a big payday and a future with his daughter.
When the heist goes bust as a setup, he finds a strange suit and meets an even stranger man, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Dr. Pym and his daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), have been monitoring and testing Scott to prepare him as a potential successor to Hank as the Ant-Man to collaborate on an elaborate heist to steal from Hank’s own corporation. Their desperate situation has been brought on by the slow unraveling of Hank’s former protege and Hope’s current colleague at PymTech, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Having spent years trying to live up to the immense shadow of Hank Pym, Cross devoted his years of research to rediscovering the shrinking technology long rumored to have been discovered and buried by Hank. His hope is to use this technology to create a military suit, the Yellow Jacket, to arm the world’s militaries with a micro army and become immensely powerful. Hank and Hope want Scott to assume the role of Ant-Man and steal this technology before it can be perfected and sold. He must learn from Pym and his daughter to master the powers of the Ant-Man, which include shrinking to the size of an ant and communicating and commanding a countless horde of specialized ants; all while planning an elaborate scheme to break in to the highly secure PymTech facility.
Living up to this tantalizing setup is the fast -paced action, playful fun, and Marvel cinematic wizardry we’ve come to expect. Ant-Man is a distinct movie in the Marvel catalogue because of it’s weird and interesting superhero. Reed captures that distinctiveness in the photorealistic yet stylistically interesting way Rudd’s Ant-Man jumps in and out of normal size and small size reality. The most fun during this movie was when Ant-Man is changing sizes as he fights; shrinking down to gain the proportional super strength of an ant and regaining full size to use the leverage of his bullet-like speed to take out those standing in his way.
It contrasts to the high-flying nature of Stark’s Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, and even the Hulk in how they fly and jump around cityscapes. It feels more grounded of a movie even though the cliff is replaced with the curb and the flying hero with a flying ant-riding hero. Yet there is very real danger. Unlike most superheroes that seem to swat away bullets like a Jedi batting away laser bolts, Ant-Man is in incredible danger from guns whether big, where the bullets hit like they would any human being, or small, where the bullets are giant boulders of rapid, hot metal. Ant-Man seems much more human, despite being ant-sized, than some of his more prolific and other-worldly Marvel counterparts. And all the credit to Rudd for boldly stepping into this unique and hybrid role. He already had comedic chops to play the part and he proved he can hold down the physicality of a role as a Marvel superhero, as well.
Rudd, along with the Ant-Man action sequences and small world visuals, are the best parts of this movie. McKay’s script rewrite with Rudd certainly made the dialogue feel like a McKay/Rudd movie. Gone is the Wehdon-esque quips and winsome banter of The Avengers movies and GotG for a much more deadpan and matter of fact script familiar to a milieu like the Anchorman movies.
However, the problems with having rewrites is obvious in the two clashing comedic styles that seem to be playing out between Wright and McKay. McKay’s matter of fact awkwardness written for Rudd’s Ant-Man conflicts with the more self-serious comedy of Michael Douglas and enthusiastic dopiness of Michael Pena’s character. At times it passes by with relative ease and other times it is painfully apparent the mashup was unfortunately dissonant.
Who seems to be most out of place in this movie is Evangeline Lilly’s Hope. Caught up in these seemingly conflicting styles is the very not funny role Hope plays. Most of the movie she is incredibly grim, skeptical of both Hank and Scott, and hopelessly indifferent to Cross’ growing obsessive insanity. When her time finally comes to develop as a character, it is affecting, but mostly come to late to grow used to her in a more human role.
Likewise, Cross is unfortunately doesn’t break the mold of what has plagued Marvel’s villains. He is one-track minded, incredibly simple, and painfully underdeveloped. The ingredients are all there, but Marvel again swept a large amount of those elements away leaving a villain that is largely forgettable.
What hiccups might have come from the script did nothing to soften the strong themes of redemption and family relationships. Hank recruits Scott because he is an expert burglar, but also because he admits he wants to see redemption for Lang. Every time the going gets tough for Lang, he turns to crime. Hank wants redemption for Scott so that he can be the hero his daughter already knows he is, not the criminal he has chosen to be.
There is a profound moment, that I do not think is spoiling much, where Hank divulges he distanced himself from the highly intelligent and power hungry Darren Cross because he saw too much of himself in him. Hank intentionally buried Pym Particle research and kept Ant-Man secret because he knew both he and Cross had the potential to abuse the powerful technology, as would any government agency, thus the confrontation with S.H.I.E.L.D in the first moments of the movie.
In contrast, what Hank saw in Scott was also a lot of himself, but there was enough redemptive hope in their shared love of their daughters to motivate Hank to trust and equip Scott as Ant-Man. The power of family and the promise of reconciliation runs deep in our human hearts. Few things are more powerful in disarming the promise of great power than the greater responsibility to the love of family. Ant-Man draws from the same well as the story of Peter Parker as Spider-Man. The rise of an unlikely hero with a broken past finding new power and a responsibility in wielding that power.
Ultimately, Hank is seeking the same redemption as he tries to bridge the divide between his daughter and himself. While he is making time and an opportunity for Scott to receive a second chance, he is hoping in this desperate hour to make an opportunity for time and relationship with Hope. The death of Hope’s mother and Dr. Pym’s secret life as Ant-Man have kept them coldly distant. At times, it feels beyond hope but as the movie shows, it’s never too late to hope for a second chance.