Out of all of the Marvel films, the one I've been the most cautious about has been Ant-Man. Originally, it was one of the ones I was most excited for due to Edgar Wright directing the film and writing it with Attack the Block writer/director Joe Cornish but when they left, I became really worried, especially since it was so close to when filming was due to start. I thought that the creative difficulties so close would mean that replacement director Peyton Reed and new co-writers Adam McKay and Paul Rudd had no chance in creating a good film. However, I have been proven wrong. Even though I would have loved to have seen Edgar Wright's vision for the film, the finished product is still an entertaining film and a worthy addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The plot concerns Scott Lang, a former thief who, after being released from prison, is trying to reform himself in order to gain visitation rights. When he can't find a job due to his criminal past, he ends up breaking into a house based on a tip given to one of his friends. The house ends up being that of Hank Pym, who was secretly watching Scott, in order for Scott to stop Pym's former partner, Darren Cross, from selling suits that shrink the person inside, a technology that Pym developed in the 1960s, with Pym giving his suit to Lang, planning for Lang to take over as Ant-Man. This is probably the most scaled back and down to earth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films since the first Iron Man as, despite the long winded explanation, this film ultimately becomes a heist film, in the vein of Ocean's Eleven and the like and part of the reason this works so well is because of the relationship between Land and Pym. Making this film about the passing of the torch from Pym to Lang was a brilliant move, providing a more straightforward way to introduce the technology and serving to get the audience up to speed, especially since the first half of the film is mainly taken up with Pym training Lang about how to use the suit, similar to how most of Iron Man was Stark developing the different Iron Man suits. You also feel that Pym is really reluctant to allow anyone to use the technology, especially his daughter Hope, although this does lead into a problem I had with the film. Even with the explanation given, it was obvious right from the start that Hope should be wearing the suit. When the explanation comes, it does create an emotional high point in the film, but there was no reason why Pym wouldn't have told Hope the real reason much earlier, especially since withholding that information led to a strained relationship between Pym and Hope. However, the other relationships Pym has in the film are very well handled. The mentor relationship he has with Lang is really well handled and works really well as a parallel to his former relationship to Cross, with Pym ending it because Cross was becoming too much like him, which Pym didn't want to happen, although there should have been more scenes or at least a flashback to bring this across more effectively. The film really works though in the third act, during the actual heist. All of the characters get great individual moments, there are scenes that continue the trend in the MCU to address potential civilian casualties (which continue to serve as showing the MCU characters to have a greater sense of empathy that the DC characters) and there are moments at the end that show that the MCU hasn't even begun to explore the strange, offbeat elements of Marvel (which will probably see greater air time in Dr Strange).
Speaking of connections to the MCU, there are a lot of moments showing how these characters fit into the world. There's a flashback scene at the beginning that serves to show why Pym is distrustful of SHIELD and doesn't want his technology utilised by anyone else and this is the first post-Avengers MCU film to address the issue of why the characters don't bring in the Avengers to resolve everything quickly and easily, which provides a great character moment for Pym. There's also an extended cameo by one of the other stars in the MCU which creates a great tie in for some of the future MCU films, aided by the post-credits scenes which are some of the most important in the MCU so far, along with being one of the best action beats in the film.
The cast meanwhile are on point throughout the film. Paul Rudd was a great choice for Lang. He has this everyman charm that sells the downtrodden nature of the character at the start of the film, along with showing the technical expertise of the character which showed with Lang was a great choice to take over as Ant-Man. He also works really well with Abby Ryder Fortson as Lang's daughter Cassie, which helps form the emotional core of the film. Michael Douglas meanwhile is a perfect choice for Pym. He brings this bitter, annoyed quality to the character which makes a lot of sense considering the stuff that happened to him in the past, whilst also having a small sense of optimism and trust that shows why he would give Lang the suit to take over. Evangeline Lilly meanwhile does a good job as Hope, brilliantly showing her anger over not being the person to take over the suit, along with showing why she was the perfect person to be in the suit in the first place. Michael Pena meanwhile is easily the comedic highlight of the film as Luis, Scott's cellmate when he was in prison and one of the people he gets to help with the heist, he gets all the best lines and scenes, with the montages of his tips being comedic highpoints in the film, and credit also needs to go to TI and David Dastmalchian as the other criminal helpers. There are some performances that aren't quite as strong though. Corey Stoll doesn't really sell the motivation of Cross to becoming evil throughout the film, along with the explanation being a bit forced in. His scenes with Michael Douglas are good, but the rest of the time, he comes across as fairly one-note. The one-note nature of performances can also be seen with Judy Greer as Lang's ex-wife Maggie, Bobby Cannavale as Paxton, a police officer and Maggie's new boyfriend, who only seems to be there to be an easy figure of mockery for Lang, and Wood Harris as Paxton's partner Gale, who gets nothing to do in the film.
The technical side of the film meanwhile is really well handled. The effects used for the shrinking are really well done and the film makes great use of the changes in size for some really inventive fight scenes. This is also shown by providing a great sense of scale, letting you know exactly how small Lang is when using the suit, especially when he first uses it, when a bath being run looks like a tsunami to him. The film also makes great use of the different types of ant (carpenter, crazy, bullet and fire), each type having their own unique function and all being used to great effect throughout the film. The film also makes great use of different elements of shrinking and growing different objects which are used to great effect in both the action scenes and to create some really great comedic moments, especially near the end of the film. At the end of the film meanwhile, there is some really creative CG employed, which provides a great look into the style that could be seen in Doctor Strange, which I won't spoil here.
Overall, whilst I still wonder what the film would have been like if Edgar Wright didn't leave the project, this is still a really entertaining film. The scaled back approach works wonders for this character, aided by a cast that is game for anything thrown at them throughout the film and effects that really sell the shrinking of the character, Ant-Man is a really fun time, although not one of the top tier films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
My Rating: 4/5