If you’re eagerly waiting for the film that brings Marvel‘s genre-defining run to a screeching halt, then you’re going to be disappointed. “Ant-Man”, easily Marvel’s most troubled production, is not going to be that film. It doesn’t reinvent the superhero genre (although the action is impressive and innovative, on a par with the Quicksilver sequence in “X-Men: Days Of Future Past”) but it’s a well crafted, entertaining and amusing adventure that revels in its independence whilst simultaneously reaffirming its place within the wider MCU.
Scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has spent his life keeping his creation out of the hands of SHIELD and any other world power but when his former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) manages to recreate some of his work, he is forced to recruit talented thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to help him and his estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) keep his technology from falling into the wrong hands.
The comic book character of Hank Pym – the original Ant-Man – isn’t a nice guy; with a back catalogue of deeds which arguably reads more supervillain than hero but this is the sanitised Marvel Cinematic Universe so little of that history survives, at least overtly. Michael Douglas delivers a skillfully subtle performance, doing the job the story requires of being the wise old mentor but infusing it with a palpable darkness and quickness of temper which hints at the Pym comic fans might be expecting. There are flashbacks to SHIELD in the 1980’s, featuring some of the best digital de-aging I’ve seen and we’re treated to a view of the Triskelion being built as well as returns for Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter and John Slattery’s Howard Stark.
Paul Rudd makes for a charming hero, and his Scott Lang character brings a new angle to the increasing roster of heroes: the family man. His desire to reconnect with his family and especially his daughter drive the emotional core of the movie. His power set and the connection to actual real live ants makes it different enough from “Iron Man” to stop this feeling like just another men in suits rock ‘em sock ‘em by the numbers adventure, despite the villain being a bit underwhelming, a worryingly persistent thread running through most of the Marvel movies.
“Ant-Man”’s focus is very much on its own agenda but there are still strong links to the wider world in which it is set. Scott Lang very sensibly suggests calling the Avengers when Pym outlines what’s at stake but Pym’s distrust of them and SHIELD handily, and credibly, keep both organisations at arms’ length. That doesn’t stop one Avenger from turning up and tangling with Ant-Man and we also get a hint that Hydra is still active, even after the events of “Avengers: Age Of Ultron”. But freed of much of Ultron’s portentous baggage, “Ant-Man” feels like a lighter, funner film simply because it’s not juggling any of the overarching plots (although it leaves a few tantalising threads of its own to follow at a future date).
Given the talent involved in its production, through their many combinations, you might be expecting this to be more of a comedy than it actually is. There are plenty of jokes and funny moments but at its heart, it’s a heist caper not a comedy adventure. The first act is a bit sluggish as the film sets up many of the character and events which are new, but once the suit goes on it sparks to life and never looks back. It’s not a heavy-hitting event picture but in amongst the recent released leaden reboots and trite spin-off cash-grabs it feels quirky, agile and new. With a mid-credits scene which will please and reward long-term fans and an end of credits stinger which teases the conflict to come, “Ant-Man” is a welcome pint-sized addition to the MCU.