Wtih Ant-Man, Phase II of Marvel’s big movie plan is now complete. And just as Avengers: Age of Ultron felt a bit problematic, this story is satisfying in its lack of overzealous ambition.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier was the political thriller, and Ant-Man is the heist picture. Complete with a music score that would feel at home with Danny Ocean, the film delivers a straight-up “criminal with a heart of gold” story that is both tired (because it’s been done) and fresh (because it’s not been done in the MCU). In the setting of Ant-Man, the tropes are there, but they’re mixed together in a blend that works on several levels, not the least of which is the chemistry between Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas.
Douglas has the responsibility of selling the idea that Hank Pym is a world-weary inventor bent on maintaining the security of his invention, the Pym Particle, after the death of his wife Janet, also known as The Wasp, during their escapades as S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives (and sharp-eyed fans will see Peggy Carter along with Howard Stark in the opener). Pym feels a responsibility to keep the technology out of the hands of anyone who would turn it into a weapon.
Enter Darren Cross, the protege who wants to be Pym, but also wants to outshine his mentor. His invention, the Yellowjacket, is everything Pym feared.
OK. The table is set. No more details because… well, spoilers.
Suffice to say that this is a thoroughly enjoyable picture that has everything in place where it needs to be: the humor, the action, the romance, the overall fitting into the MCU… it’s all there. And Paul Rudd makes a good Scott Lang, bringing a quiet “everyman” performance to the role. And he gives it just enough humor to remind everyone that he’s got comedy chops, but never goes overboard into slapstick or crude humor.
Evangeline Lilly holds her own against the testosterone of the slugfest, giving as good as she gets in both the fights and the emotional battles with her father. And while she’s obviously there to also be a romantic foil for Rudd, we’re not slammed in the face with it. Nothing in this film feels overcooked much. Even the connection to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is both organic and restrained.
Michael Peña steals pretty much every scene he’s in, and while it may be odd to say he’s the comic relief in a comedy-action picture, he really is. And his performance allows Rudd to go smaller with his performance, to the benefit of the film.
I even like the fact that the family dynamic between Lang and his ex-wife don’t tread very far into stereotypical behavior. They both want what’s best for Cassie, and the tropey “c’mon, let me see her on her birthday” scene — which could have gone very far into Trope Territory — is played straight. They’re grown-ups, and they act like grown-ups, with neither one playing to stereotypes.
Everything in this film is “just enough”. It’s a balanced mix, and it plays much better overall than the last act of Age of Ultron. Ant-Man also serves as a nice bridge between the massive noisy action picture and what we’re getting next with Captain America: Civil War, which will hopefully take Ultron‘s action and give it Ant-Man‘s heart.