“Ant-Man” Movie Review

     Marvel Studios seems to have earned the distinction of being compared to Pixar Animation Studios in that each and every film they release, regardless of whether or not it is based on a new concept or character, achieves a certain standard other studios may only reach every few years.  Their latest offering, director Peyton Reed’s “Ant-Man”, is another colorful entry into the Marvel Universe that is sure to please both the comic book faithful and mainstream audiences alike.  In similar fashion to last summer’s mega hit, “Guardians of the Galaxy”, the filmmakers were given the task of unleashing a new and unfamiliar Marvel property in a way that both tells the origins of the character, as well as meshing it with the current story lines set forth in what is termed the “Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase 2”.  “Ant-Man” functions as the last chapter in Phase 2 and puts in motion a series of new plot threads and characters as the studio moves into Phase 3 with next year’s “Captain America: Civil War” in which Ant-Man will appear.

     It was an interesting choice bringing Peyton Reed aboard to direct since his past efforts included mediocre situational comedies like “The Break Up” and “Yes Man” with no special effects laden projects to speak of.  We know “Ant-man” had a long and difficult journey getting to the big screen and in addition to going through multiple directors on the project, the screenwriting credits boast no less than four writers, including “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” vet Edgar Wright.  No doubt, the success of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and its comedic tone was a major influence on “Ant-Man” and the fact the film plays more like a comedy than a traditional superhero movie.  Add to that the fact Paul Rudd dons the incredible shrinking suit in the film and you have all of the necessary ingredients for a film that won’t be in the business of taking itself seriously.

     CGI is the culprit that realistically takes 30 plus years off of Michael Douglas’ Dr. Hank Pym in a 1980s flashback sequence that shows a number of evildoers within his organization who intend on removing him as CEO and selling his technology to the highest bidder.  The technology in question is somewhat of a legend.  A suit that allows its wearer to shrink to the size of an ant with the push of a button and regain full size at anytime.  Dr. Pym knows this isn’t the kind of technology he wants getting into the wrong hands and decides to leave his company with his secrets in tow.  Fast forward to present day where both Pym’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and his former protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), now run the company and are on the verge of a similar breakthrough.  Cross intends to market a shrinking suit technology called Yellowjacket and it seems his plans are based more on the money he can make than who buys his technology and what they use it for.  So how will Dr. Pym stop Cross and his irresponsible and possibly evil intentions?

     Enter cat burglar Scott Lang (Rudd) who has just been released from a three year stint at San Quentin after he made national headlines with a daring and sophisticated break in.  Pym recruits Scott because of his uncanny ability to disable hi tech security measures in high stress circumstances where the clock is ticking, as well as the physical attributes he possesses in moving over walls and through tight spaces.  Of course there has to be a hook in order for Pym to convince Scott that becoming Ant-Man and stopping Cross is the kind of job he would even consider.  After going away to prison, Scott’s ex-wife, Maggie (Judy Greer), has moved on with their daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), and plans to remarry.  Here again you have Bobby Cannavale playing an overzealous family man trying to block someone from the past out of his family’s current life.  Scott wants nothing more than to have a relationship with his daughter, but the fact Maggie’s new boyfriend is a cop seems to complicate matters.  Though it’s not really explained how, Pym promises Scott that by becoming Ant-Man and essentially saving the world, he will be able to see his daughter again.

     One of the most pleasant surprises about the script is the fact the current Marvel Universe is consistently addressed when the various characters make important decisions.  I’ve always asked the question “Where are the other Avengers?” when one of them does a standalone film and why are they not available or even consulted?  Pym answers those questions throughout as he seems to have a contentious relationship with the Stark family that goes back decades, which explains why he never offered up his Ant-Man technology to the Avengers.  There’s even a key sequence in the film in which one of the Avengers responds to an alarm call at a secret facility where Ant-Man is conducting a test run under the watchful eye of Pym before they enbark on entering Cross’ facility.  It’s there that we see the true capabilities of the Ant-Man suit and the ever increasing mastery Scott is achieving as he is able to shrink and resize in the blink of an eye, which makes him nearly impossible to fight.  He is also capable of communicating with armies of different types of ants, who interact and partner with him when he shrinks to their size.

     As you might imagine with an Edgar Wright script, “Ant-Man” has no shortage of comic relief which comes in the form of nearly every character.  Scott is flanked during the film with a backup team comprised of fellow burglars played by Michael Pena, T.I., and David Dastmalchian who are all given a multitude of moments in the film to flex their comic muscles.  Of course the interaction between Scott and Pym’s daughter, Hope (Lilly), as she trains him in the skills necessary to operate the suit are all played to Rudd’s strength of being that likable everyman thrust into extraordinary circumstances.  You might remember Evangeline Lilly from the “Hobbit” films where she played the highly skilled warrior Elf, Tauriel.  Here, her well muscled athleticism and martial arts prowess are on full display, giving the film the strong female character it needs.  It’s easy to envision the two of them making a formidable team in a future film.

     “Ant-Man” successfully pulls off that all but elusive trick needed to conjure up something that feels original even though the story and the key plot threads have been used many times before.  The visual effects department and the production designers likely deserve the lion’s share of credit for this since the look and feel of the action sequences with Ant-Man changing from normal size to ant size and the way he interacts with the CGI ants and the full size bad guys is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.  Factor in timely comedic dialogue that never really goes over the top, nor does it take itself seriously, and you have the makings for yet another solid Marvel outing and the birth of a solid new character for their future big screen ventures.