Marvel is taking it easy this time around. There's no cosmic Asgard to explore, no robotic threat to the world, no alien invasion. There's just this guy, who has made some bad decisions in his past. He wants to redeem himself so he can be with his daughter again.
If this were Sundance we'd be talking Oscar bait.
Of course in a Marvel movie our ex-con is going to become a superhero, save the day, and audition for a role in an upcoming Avengers movie the same day. That's not a big secret; it's kind of what we expected.
What we didn't expect is how this otherwise small story is entangled and entwined in the larger Marvel Universe. Lightly touching on more parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe than prior films, the connections with many otherwise unfilmed bits of Marvel mythos make Ant-Man feel like it's got those notorious post-credit scenes scattered throughout its two hours.
Almost from the start we learn of a secret unnamed hero from the past, one who may or not be a myth. But the myth exhibits powers a little too close to what Hank Pym, the amazing Michael Douglas, has made his lifetime endeavor.
Pym denies it, of course. And he denies it to the newly minted SHIELD organization which includes Peggy Carter, Hayley Atwell present, strong and lovely in both young and older versions, because it's too dangerous for any single super-power or corporation to command.
Oh, Hayley, did you expect to be a linch-pin of the Marvel Universe when you signed on?
Of course the power we're talking about is the ability to close the distance between atoms in matter, and by doing so shrink the matter while maintaining its mass. Only Pym has figured out how to do this without killing the subject, and it's a secret he's literally locked away in his basement.
Which is where the story of ex-felon Scott Lang, lovable and dopey-smart Paul Rudd, begins. Recently released from prison, he just wants to go straight and win back some quality time with his daughter. His ex-wife, Judy Greer, is actually rooting for him to do so, and remarkably enough Cassie's step-father, Bobby Cannavale, wouldn't mind it either.
This is all on Scott, and he knows it. But there's no love in the world for an ex-con, no matter how lovable and erstwhile. So of course this is where Ant-Man becomes a mini Ocean's Eleven style heist film.
After a fairly brilliant set of Macgyver-style plot twists, the heist is completed without any treasure uncovered. Scott ends up back at home staring at the strange Ant-Man suit. So of course he puts on the suit, and pushes the button.
Face it. We'd all do that.
This is the point where small meets big, and the CGI and cinematography gets to run amok.
The world of the miniature takes everyday surroundings and makes them vast alien landscapes.The crazy alien landscape of the floorof a dirty bathtub. Running through high-pile carpet. Water. Ants, and their tunnels.And a battle on a miniature architect's model with explosions and devastation that could have been pulled right out of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
There's even a brilliant bit where Ant-Man butt-slides across the hood of a model car just steps past an explosion that sends it jerking up off the ground. Your anxious gasps are regularly punctuated with laughter.
Controlling your size as a weapon gives the animation and CGI departments a welcome excuse to show us a few new tricks and surprises when it comes to hand-to-ant-hand combat. (Flash and Hulk will never again make fun of Ant-Man at a party.) We'd best not judge Ant-Man by his size, because his mass stays the same so he punches like a bullet. Director Peyton Reed uses his miniaturized world to send up so many other genre tropes, and it's just so much fun to watch.
Of course this is Ant-Man, not the Avengers or Iron Man, so the threat here is more intimate than it is world-shattering. There's some hand-waving about how once evil and soulless executive Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) sells his version of miniaturization to Hydra ("Hey, they're not those guys anymore.") the entire world will be theirs.
You really don't have to believe that, I'm pretty sure that if they'd been successful it would have been a relatively easy mission for the Avengers to deal with. What you do believe is Cross's threat to Lang's family. And that threat is more than enough to make us root for the good guy.
There are a couple of small complaints, more with how this film is plotted within the Marvel Film Universe. It's way too early in the franchise for us to be seeing repetition in themes. Some of Pym's back story is yanked right outof Captain America lore, specifically the "Winter Soldier" origin germ that wasn't used. And the conflict that ends the movie really feels like we're watching a replay of Iron Man's finale. Not that that's a bad thing really; this is wildly more entertaining.
It does make up for those flaws by being another perfect love letter to the fans. Honoring the source material is a super power Marvel has based their domination of the super-hero movie franchises upon.This is spot-on as accurate a representation of a character as you can get, no mean feat for someone who has admittedly had his origin and history adjusted a couple of times. This is Ant-Man. These are his ants. That's the girl, Hope Pym, daughter of Hank, whom he'll kiss by the end of the movie (Oh. Evangeline Lilly!) The story is near perfect. Compact and clear.
And the Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish script does drop more than a couple of hints about things to come. Janet Pym's mysterious death/disappearance feels far too close to a recently resolved Janet Van Dyne storyline not to be part of some future Ant-Man outing. The relationship between Hank Pym and Scott Lang, and why the former gave up the role to the latter, makes more sense than what's previously been in the comic. No doubt, once the Secret Wars rebuilding of the Marvel Universe is complete this will all fit nicely into the comic book storyline as well.
In the end there will be some small number of people complaining Ant-Man was too funny and not serious enough, and some whinging about how it is too serious and not funny enough. But those people are wrong. Ant-Man is just right. It's Ant-Man.
By the way, Ant-Man delivers not one (Damn you, Joss Whedon!) post credit scene, but two. And each contains a special sparkle of what's coming up in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.