I like to get small. No, not like that. I mean that in the midst of the sensory onslaught that is modern entertainment, I really enjoy stories that concentrate on small groups of people, with more personal concerns, less universal stakes. This is not, generally, what Marvel does. Marvel goes for the big bang, for the city destroying, skyscraper blasting, universe changing, infinity war that leaves the brain a mushy jelly in the skull dish. Marvel-fatigue is a real thing. Not a bit of that will matter if they keep coming out with movies as focused and as funny as Ant-Man.
Ant-Man is another Marvel movie based on a relatively unknown character. Yes, Ant-Man (Hank Pym) in the comics did actually form the Avengers and was the scientist who built Ultron, but he never received the billing some of the other characters did. Maybe that’s because his power was making himself really, really small. In fact, this movie isn’t even about that Ant-Man. Instead it’s about one of Pym’s proteges, Scott Lang, who inherits Pym’s powers and title. All of this is background to the character, but not particularly important to this movie, which is great. At it’s core Ant-Man is a heist movie. It’s a really good heist movie. It’s the Ocean’s 11 of Marvel movies, and that is a spectacular thing.
The plot of the film revolves around Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) who is a recently released convict specializing in burglary. He has a daughter he’s not allowed to see and has trouble holding down a legitimate job (at Baskin Robbins in a hilarious scene). When he calculates that it’s going to take over a year to earn enough money to see his daughter again, he agrees to one last heist with his crew–played amazingly by Michael PeÃ±a, T.I., and David Dastmalchian. Predictably, the aftermath of the heist goes somewhat awry, ending up with Scott wearing a suit giving him the ability to shrink to the size of an Ant.
The suit is the property of famed scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who enlists Lang to help him steal similar technology from his former company so that it won’t be used for evil. The company is no longer in his control, but is instead run by his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) and his former protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). There’s a ton of great training scenes, wonderful (not over-the-top) effects, and once the heist begins, there’s hardly time to draw breath. It’s an action packed, wonderfully made film.
CGI is almost never as effective as practical effects are on a macro level, so after seeing Ant-Man the key must be the scale. Since we can’t imagine what the world looks like from the perspective of an ant (or smaller as you’ll see later in the film), the effects work really, really well. They don’t feel hokey, or animated, and they add a lot to the movie. Seeing it in IMAX 3D (something I do not normally do) made it feel all the more engrossing and is definitely something to do, if you can.
The effects and story aside, this movie is comic gold. There’s not been a funnier Marvel movie and there are few comedies released this summer that have so many laugh out loud moments. Paul Rudd is typically hilarious; his deadpan reactions to outlandish situations, his every-man humor while doing crazy things (like raiding Avenger’s HQ in a particularly funny scene), and his smirking–yet endearing–sarcasm, just make him a delight to watch for two hours. It’s a role that he really owns, and he makes an incredibly good relatively relateable superhero. The exchanges between Rudd and Douglas are fantastic, and Stoll plays a great villain, slowly losing his sanity along the way.
That being said, all the biscuits go to Michael PeÃ±a who absolutely steals the show. Though his part as Luis is relatively minor, every time he’s on the screen is like watching the world’s funniest joke. There’s a conceit in this movie where he’ll set up a job by telling a super convoluted story, and they’ll show the action while dubbing all the dialogue with PeÃ±a’s voice (ala Drunk History) and it’s the best. Every scene with Luis is the best scene in the movie.
Ant-Man was originally supposed to be directed by Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End fame. Behind-the-scenes things happened, he dropped out and was replaced by comic director Peyton Reed. Whatever combination of work Wright and Reed did on the script and on the movie, it is as close to a comedic masterpiece as any comic book movie this side of Deadpool is ever going to be. The action is great, the effects are great, the story is engaging, the actors hit every note, and the comedy was downright, gut-busting incredible. The entire package is there.
If you we’re out on Marvel movies, do yourself a favor and get back into this one. You’ll be doing yourself no small favor.