The big-bang MCU juggernaut “Avengers: Age of Ultron” came out back in May, and just two months later, we now have the conclusion to phase 2. This time, the vehicle is a heist film, and the first of its kind. “Ant-Man” is in many ways a very risky move for Disney, just like “Guardians of the Galaxy” was back in 2014. The superhero has little to no public recognition, the idea of him is beyond ridiculous, and the technical challenge of making it all seem feasible is no easy task. Yet here it is, ready to take the gamble. So how did it do? Let’s just say that Peyton Reed and his team found the magic formula for making the small and personal seem big and important.
In the movie, Paul Rudd plays master-thief and routinary prisoner Scott Lang, who comes out of his latest sentence with the goal of coming clean. He wants to be there for his little daughter, and be the father she admires so much. But his ex-wife won’t allow it unless he can actually prove that he has changed. She wants him pay back all the child support he hasn’t been able to provide for years. Desperate, Lang breaks into an old man’s house to steal what must be something valuable inside a safe. But what he finds is a strange suit that will soon change his life forever.
A lot of speculation has surrounded this particular production, not just because it’s been in the making for almost a decade, but because long-time writer and director Edgar Wright suddenly dropped out of the project due to creative differences with Marvel president Kevin Feige. It is easy to fear that this departure could’ve caused immense damage to the final product, especially considering how strong Wright’s vision was up until that point. Fortunately, “Ant-Man” didn’t just manage to avoid complete wreckage. It actually winded up being one of the most intimate and thrilling entries in the MCU to date. In fact, it might just be the best film the company has produced.
Contrary to general expectation, this is not just another run-of-the-mill exercise in bloated scope and fabricated storytelling. The stakes here are much smaller and more domestic in scale. The world doesn’t need to be saved from impending doom, and robots are not raising entire cities up from the ground. This fight is above all personal, which makes the whole thing so much more compelling and nerve-wracking than most other superhero flicks. Scott Lang is, unlike Iron Man or Thor, a relatable human being. He isn’t rich. He doesn’t have god-like abilities. He’s just a regular guy who lost his picket-fence house and family to crime. Granted, he does have unusually deft skills in thievery, but that still seems way more plausible than a talking racoon. He is the superhero for people who don’t like superheroes. The guy who could be your next-door neighbour. It’s like someone from our world got pulled into a comic book and replaced the actual hero of the story.
Paul Rudd is absolutely delightful as the titular protagonist. He perfectly encapsulates the ordinary aspects of the character, but also brings plenty of his own comedic wit to the table. The entire movie is very funny, actually. But not in a silly or preposterous manner. The humor is very smart and self-aware, playing on our pre-conceived notions of what the film is going to be. Sort of like “Guardians of the Galaxy”, but less dependant on pop culture references. You can essentially take out the gags in relation to the MCU, and what you have is a full-blooded heist film with a guy who just so happens to be able to shrink in size. It works as a stand-alone piece, completely independent from the avengers. Sure, it ties into the other movies, but it doesn’t rely solely on that to drive the narrative. It exists entirely on its own merits, and that is why it excels.
On the more technical side, “Ant-Man” is no less of a success. The tour-de-force macro photography helps create some of the most intense, visceral and innovative action sequences I’ve seen in years. And the ironic part is that all of it is composed of computer-generated imagery. Nothing is real here, and the movie doesn’t pretend that it is. What makes it so effective is the sense of playfulness that director Peyton Reed injects into the every single scene. He tampers so energetically with the idea of shrinking a human, that even despite how ridiculous it seems in concept, we still feel the wonder and amazement of viewing the world from the perspective of an insect. Much of that is of course also due to the writing, which clearly bares the quirky trademarks of Edgar Wright. His vision is well-kept and alive throughout the entire film, and Reed makes sure his work wasn’t done in vein. Being a huge fan of the Ant-Man comics himself, he totally understands what makes the character so appealing and interesting to explore. Thanks to his unique approach, we got not just a great superhero film, but also a fantastic comedy. The only thing it really has going against it is the weak motivations of the villain, which continues to be a problem for Marvel. Other than that, there is nothing to complain about here. It doesn’t get better.