Coming after the last half-dozen Marvel Studios efforts full of explosive events and potentially world-ending catastrophes, Ant-Man is a welcome palette cleanser that makes the most of its smaller scale. Not since Iron Man has Marvel released a movie this accessible, with a (relatively) light and breezy tone as likely to appeal to kids as to their parents who have no idea what the hell an Ant-Man is.
Ex-con with a heart of gold Scott Lang (the perpetually likeable Paul Rudd) returns to his former life as a cat burglar to secure the funds he needs to be a part of his daughter’s life. The target? Reclusive scientific genius and former S.H.I.E.L.D. associate Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a pioneer in the field of, well, shrinking things. Pym enlists Lang to break into his company’s headquarters to retrieve a suit created by his protégé/nemesis Darren Cross (Corey Stoll): one that utilizes a bastardized version of Pym’s technology to create the super soldiers of the future. Along with his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Pym trains a reluctant Lang to follow in his footsteps as Ant-Man in order to steal Cross’ suit before it’s sold into the wrong hands.
Ant-Man adds a new flavor to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one the audience didn’t realize it wanted: the heist movie. Employing staples of the genre like the putting of the team together, the mission to obtain that one missing piece needed to pull off a successful job, and a jazzy score that recalls Ocean’s 11 goes a long way towards providing Ant-Man with a distinct identity in the ever-expanding superhero landscape.
Rudd brings his natural warmth and charm to the role of Lang, instilling the character with a blue-collar affability that helps distinguish him from the super soldiers, tech billionaires and Norse gods we’ve met in prior MCU outings. He even apologizes to The Falcon as he’s shorting out the Avenger’s flight rig. Douglas, Lilly and Stoll elevate what could be generic roles in the hands of others, and a veritable murderers’ row of character actors – including Judy Greer, Michael Peña and Bobby Cannavale – provide superior support.
The direction by Peyton Reed is solid, if a bit anonymous. He sticks mainly to the Marvel house style, though many of the scenes featuring Lang learning to operate at thimble-size include funny and inventive spins on the idea of shrinking. (Including a particularly memorable sequence featuring both The Cure and Siri.) Composer Christophe Beck turns in a fairly generic score composed of standard superhero bombast.
Where Ant-Man truly excels is in cultivating a superior cast with great chemistry; developing inventive scenarios that provide new spins on the shrinking concept; and a script that ably vacillates between drama and comedy beats, thanks to the talents of directors Edgar Wright and Adam McKay, as well as Rudd himself.
Hopefully as the MCU continues to expand, Marvel will continue making space for movies like Ant-Man; films that shine a spotlight on the more obscure corners of the company’s history, and which present smaller stories made no less vital by their size.