Amongst all the Marvel movies released thus far, “Ant-Man” may be the first without an obvious fan base. There’s no iconic emblem on his chest that we can emblazon onto T-shirts, the cartoons he has appeared in pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe aren’t well-known or beloved, and his powers are pretty spectacularly unsexy. Shrinking and talking to ants? C’mon.
Add to that a very complicated comic book history and some highly-publicized behind-the-scenes creative shuffling, and it’s easy to assume that “Ant-Man” is far from a safe bet.
Summer blockbusters trade in expectation, but it’s hard to figure out what to expect from “Ant-Man” other than the prerequisite visual effects and Paul Rudd charm. Its trailers are too busy trying to explain Ant-Man’s powers and convince you that they’re cool to spend any time selling you on the fun heist story at the movie’s center, or the charming comedic ensemble that glues everything together.
In fact, the movie takes a while before the best things about it come together in any meaningful way. The first half of the film feels strangely off — it starts with a prologue set in the ’80s that introduces Michael Douglass as Hank Pym, a scientist with a remarkable formula for shrinking matter who decides to hide it from the government agents that want it as a weapon (there are also quite a few Easter eggs for Marvel fans in those first few minutes).
Then it jumps to the present day and introduces Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a Robin Hood-esque thief with a code who’s just out of lockup and is trying to go clean.
These are the unlikely pair that “Ant-Man” throws together when Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), the power-hungry young man now in charge of Pym’s company, announces he’s figured out his former mentor’s secret, and plans to sell it to the military. The premise is simple: Pym wants Lang to steal his techology back from Cross.
It’s hard to articulate what it is about the first half of the movie that feels so strange, but much of it comes down to pacing. While “Ant-Man” doesn’t take very long getting Paul Rudd in the incredible suit, there’s a very real lack of momentum that undermines the talents of the cast and the fun of the central conceit.
However, midway through, the film just clicks, and it’s wonderful. The action is exciting and imaginative, the cast really starts to gel together, and the jokes get really, really funny.
Marvel films have a reputation for not entirely sticking the landing — they start strong, but generally end with big, dumb fights. Sure, there’s a fight at the end of “Ant-Man” as well, but it’s genuinely thrilling, the best action sequence in a movie where action sequences get better and better as the film goes on. In this sense, the film suffers from the inverse problem of most Marvel films — its first act is a bit weak, but the back half sings.
There are other problems with “Ant-Man,” as well — the villain, Darren Cross, is pretty cartoonishly evil, but actor Corey Stoll totally relishes the role. Evangeline Lilly has a few great moments as Hank Pym’s daughter Hope Van Dyne, but she’s sidelined for much of the film. While “Ant-Man” goes out of its way to make this an important plot point, it doesn’t make up for it with other female characters, because there really aren’t any outside of Scott Lang’s disapproving wife and adorable daughter.
What’s most refreshing about “Ant-Man,” then, is probably its scope. Finally, here is a Marvel movie about something other than the destruction of worlds. Cities don’t get leveled in “Ant-Man,” just a building does. It’s a story almost exclusively about a small, personal thing: Fathers who have looked at their lives and realised they have failed their children.
Like those fathers, “Ant-Man” is a flawed, yet earnest attempt to win over those who might not believe in it.
Give it a shot.
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