Superhero origin movies often follow a very predictable pattern. [DON’T READ THIS IF YOU THINK THAT EVERY SUPERHERO MOVIE IS DIFFERENT AND UNIQUE AND YOU DON’T WANT YOUR WORLD SHATTERED INTO A MILLION PIECES]
1. Past stuff
2. Here’s the good guy/girl
3. Here’s someone else, who will probably become the bad guy/girl
4. Good guy/girl learns about powers/secret government program
6. First outing as a superhero which goes badly
7. Reveal of the evil plan/reveal of the villain
8. Second outing as a superhero which goes awesomely
9. Battle between good guy/girl and bad guy/girl
10. Epilogue in which we see how comfortable good guy/girl is in their new role and how they’ll look forward to the future.
[THERE WILL BE NO GENERAL PLOT SPOILER-ISH STUFF AFTER THIS, EVEN THOUGH THAT TERRIBLE INSPECTOR GADGET MOVIE FROM THE 90’S AND THAT AWESOME MASK OF ZORRO MOVIE BOTH FOLLOW THIS EXACT FORMULA AS DO MOST MOVIES, BUT I DON’T WANT TO BE MEAN AND RUIN YOUR WORLDVIEW]
While this movie stays very true to the formula, it still manages to be a wildly enjoyable film with genuine characters you care about and many moments of laugh-out-loud humor that rivals previous Marvel action comedy Guardians of the Galaxy.
During the Cold War, the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his wife Wasp made use of a revolutionary technology that allowed them to shrink to bug size at will but retain their human strength, making them veritable human weapons, but Pym, believing the technology to be too dangerous if captured by the wrong people made sure the whole thing was covered up. Years later, there has been a change in leadership at Pym’s company and he, along with his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), must solicit the aid of hard luck case Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to don the Ant-Man suit and make sure that Pym’s formula remains a secret from the new owners of his company by pulling off the craziest heist in history.
What struck me as different about this one is that a great deal of time is spent in developing the characters. Guardians of the Galaxy was fun, but it had a big cast, so its characters were all pre-fabricated types that we understood as soon as we met them so as to save narrative space for the action. In this one, the main trio of characters, Hank, Scott, and Hope are given plenty of room to breathe and develop. As a result, you really grow to understand and like them for very different reasons. There are times where the action and wisecracking stop completely, but it doesn’t feel slow because you want to get to know these people better. Now, while this is great for a first time viewing, I’m curious if these moments will cause the story to drag in repeat viewings. Time will tell.
Paul Rudd is Paul Rudd, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. He is at his charming, easygoing best when he’s just himself, and as a result, he’s the most approachable superhero in the Marvel canon, someone you could imagine actually meeting in real life. There’s no grandiose ego or angst-ridden vendetta to clutter things up. He’s just a good guy who made some bad decisions. Evangeline Lilly is both prickly and warm as Hope, and the scenes which show us her complex relationship with her father are really well done. She has a tendency to keep the same facial expression throughout the whole movie, but you can tell there’s a real human woman beneath the facade. Plus, I’m excited to see where her character will go from here.
Michael Douglas is just fantastic and incredibly likable as the world-weary scientist. He’s definitely my favorite character in the whole movie. Unlike Scott who thinks before he acts, Hank is impulsive and prone to the occasional violent outburst. He spends the whole movie trying desperately to reign himself in, and to atone for his actions in the past. I can see why Marvel decided to focus on Scott Lang as this iteration of Ant-Man because Hank Pym is a less family-friendly character in the comics, swinging from valiant heroism to dark brutality. This Hank Pym is much more stable, of course, but he works much better overall as the mentor figure. He genuinely feels like someone who is trying to make things right and you can’t help but find him charming and engaging. Even the villain, who tends to be a bit over the top at times still has moments early on where you genuinely like him. Heck, you even feel a sort of kinship to the ants Scott employs to help him (I love you Antony!!)
Now, of course, this is still a hysterically funny film, mostly due to Scott’s friend Luis (Michael Peña) who has a way of breathlessly delivering important information in rambling story form that is just hilarious (and the way the filmmakers visually represent this is very clever). He’s joined by eternal optimist Dave (T.I.) and blunt-but-practical Kurt (David Dastmalcian) who round out the trio of sidekicks. There are also a great number of gags relating to things being shrunken and exploded to huge sizes as well. The audience was in stitches for a number of the big action scenes, but it worked with the playful tone of the film. It doesn’t take itself seriously whatsoever, and so it knows how to have fun. Mad props also to young Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), Lang’s daughter. She is wonderfully written and so well acted that she steals the scene almost every time she speaks. She’s adorable, a little weird, and very genuine. I really hope we get to see her again.
The action is top notch, but retrained enough to allow for even bigger (and smaller) things to happen in future MCU films where Ant-Man is featured. I especially loved the sequences where Scott is running through crazy oversized environments while in his shrunken form. The way those are shot is really disorienting and gives the audience a good sense of the scale of the giant world. And the fight scenes are breathlessly fun, especially when everyone is jumping from normal to micro-sized.
It’s not a deep thoughtful drama, nor is it a squishy romance with lots of soft strings and gentle lighting. It’s not a wrenching critique of humanity in any way. It’s not a surreal foreign film where everyone is angry and sad all the time. It’s a superhero move, and so it pushes a lot of buttons audiences are expecting. I’m sure this whole superhero craze will die down eventually, but for now, let’s just enjoy the fun of the MCU as we eagerly await Captain America: Civil War.
Also, be sure to stay for the ENTIRE end credits, because there are two VERY IMPORTANT post credit scenes that lead right into the next movie.
Join me next week as we continue with Pixar By Numbers! Tah tah!
…don’t think you can hide anything from Baskin Robbins…
…they will find out.