Travel back to 2008 with me for a moment. Remember when “Iron Man” was released? Back then, Iron Man wasn’t considered a top tier superhero. Among the non-comic fans, at least, there was Batman, Superman, Spiderman and only a select few others that were well known and highly lauded. But then the Jon Favreau directed action film hit theaters and Iron Man shot from a bottom rung superhero to the top of the Marvel universe, becoming arguably the most recognizable one in their whole canon.
This is why I went into “Ant-Man,” a film whose superhero is even more obscure and backed by a supremely silly concept, with cautious optimism. Besides, Marvel has rarely stumbled since they began shaping their cinematic universe, so surely they could make “Ant-Man” enjoyable, right? I’m happy to say the answer is a resounding “yes.” It’s not going to make waves like “Iron Man” did and, frankly, it seems pretty slight compared to Marvel’s best films, but it’s nevertheless a fun, lighthearted superhero romp that is guaranteed to please the Marvel faithful.
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a recently paroled convict. He’s a good man at heart, having done his time for a non-violent crime, but his record makes it hard for him to keep a job. The problem is that he has a young daughter whom he wants to care for, but has no income to do so.
To compensate, he reluctantly agrees to take on a job with a ragtag group of guys, led by Luis (Michael Pena), to steal the contents of a safe at Dr. Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) house. However, after cracking into it, he finds only a suit, one that can shrink him down to the size of an ant. It turns out Pym has let him break in to test his determination and willpower because he needs his help in stopping his former company from potentially destroying the world.
As you can tell, the story is fairly standard superhero stuff, following the tried-and-true formula of “Hero needs to stop Bad Guy to prevent Evil Plot.” The screenwriters merely pulled a fill-in-the-blank, as they replaced the generic descriptors with a few specifics. It works on a basic level, but perhaps it comes as no surprise that the stakes are never raised particularly high, especially after the previous Marvel movies have done so much. “Ant-Man” is your standard go-through-the-motions superhero film, so it’s a bit difficult to truly care, but it’s elevated by a terrific cast and a few standout moments.
Paul Rudd may not seem like an ideal candidate for a superhero, given his smaller build and comedic history, but he fits the role perfectly. Ant-Man, while certainly a strong hero, depends more on agility and flexibility to get by, as he shrinks and grows at will, bullets whizzing by and missing by centimeters. Rudd, whose smaller build fits appropriately with the film’s literal smaller scale, pulls it off remarkably well, crafting a believable character and downplaying his usual big screen antics. In films like “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” and “I Love You, Man,” he broke character often, laughing during takes that he should have been stone-faced in, but he barely smiles here. Those who feared he may shtick the movie up needn’t worry; he’s all business and a delight to watch.
The film’s biggest stumbles come from an uneven story that never quite finds the correct flow, as it shoehorns in numerous connections to the overall “Avengers” universe. References meant to be humorous feel out of place and one scene midway through is hardly organic to the story, serving more as way to deviate from its story focus with action and dramatically introduce a noticeable character. Similarly, its drama falls flat. While I would hardly consider divulging the fate of the hundreds of ants that accompany Ant-Man on his mission a spoiler, I’ll refrain, but it must be said one particular late moment, seemingly played straight, was far and away the funniest part of the entire movie.
“Ant-Man” both succeeds and fails on those moments too. It’s far too goofy to take its drama seriously, but it’s far too fun to entirely criticize that goofiness. I’m not entirely convinced the character will mix well into the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe when he inevitably starts to crossover into other superhero films, but as a standalone adventure, “Ant-Man” is undeniably entertaining.