I recently saw the movie Ant-Man and these are my thoughts about it (this review contains some spoilers). It should be noted that I am a big fan of comic books, and Marvel Comics in particular, and have been so since I was at least five years old. I am sure that fandom biases my review in some way.
By way of introduction for the uninitiated, Ant-Man is a movie based on Marvel comic books that falls at the end of Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This movie is the twelfth in the film series, which also includes nearly two-and-a-half seasons of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (a television series), one season of Agent Carter (also a television series), Daredevil and Jessica Jones (Netflix series), and five Marvel One-Shot films. Needless to say, this film is deeply entrenched in a clearly established, long running, and sprawling interconnected media universe.
In the comic books, Ant-Man is among the first Marvel characters introduced in the 1960s (an era which included the introduction of most of “classic” Marvel characters everyone knows and loves), but in the movie universe he is somewhat late in the game. As a result, the movie places Hank Pym, who is the original Ant-Man (played by Michael Douglas), into the Cinematic Universe’s past, and makes him a similarly aged contemporary with Agent Peggy Carter (who appears in the film in a flashback with Pym) and Howard Stark (who also appears in flashback). As one may expect, the movie surrounds “Pym Particles” (the technology Pym invents to change his size) and the interests S.H.I.E.L.D. has in them. Of course, things go south which causes Pym to discontinue using and developing his technology, which he then suppresses for fear of the danger that it could wreak. Fast forward to the present day, and the man who becomes the villain Yellowjacket relentlessly pursues Pym’s shrinking technology seeking to weaponize it, which, once he perfects his own (albeit somewhat flawed) version, he does, and that creates the primary conflict of the film. Pym, as an older man now, seeks out, and recruits, Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd), a young guy with a chequered past but good heart who needs to redeem himself, who adopts the Ant-Man mantle to accomplish that. Over the course of Pym and Lang’s relationship, he encounters Hope Van Dyne (Pym’s daughter) which, of course, goes down a romantic path, and the whereabouts of the Wasp (Pym’s wife and Hope’s mother) is explored.
As I stated above, this movie is the twelfth entry into a huge movie series which has proven itself capable of easily making fun, fast paced, well put together comic book movies, and Ant-Man is a worthy addition to that series. This movie, obviously, is not a serious drama or artistic cinema. Instead, it is fun action movie that holds up well with spunky dialogue, well choreographed action scenes, and surprisingly decent acting.
Unfortunately, Marvel has gotten into a routine with its movies where it presents a character’s origin, creates a conflict with a character with very similar powers (albeit with ill intent), and then resolves that conflict after it appears the hero is dead (or nearly dead), all the while meeting a love interest along the way. Almost all of the Marvel movies play out in this way, and Ant-Man seems the most cookie cutter of them all, which does not bode well for the Phase Three slate of origin films.
Marvel appears to be cognizant of its tendency to be formulaic, so it has made each of its films a different genre into which its formula is placed to make for variety and interest. So, for Ant-Man, the genre appears to be a funny heist type movie (as opposed to a straight up action movie) along the lines of Oceans Eleven, which, to my mind, works very well. Other examples being the Captain America movies being political thrillers, the Thor movies being fantasy, the Hulk movie being a “monster movie,” and the upcoming Spider-Man movie being a movie in the style of John Hughes, and so on. In addition to genre adaptation, Marvel also leverages the natural personality of its actors, which works very well for them as Marvel, so far, has had a real knack for really effective casting. In this movie, Rudd is very much himself through this movie, and Douglas is too, and that sort of natural approach makes the characters both humorous but also very relatable.
As a comic book fan, this movie was very obviously self-referential to its placement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For example, there is an entire scene of dialogue placed into the movie simply to engender anticipation for the introduction of Spider-Man into this universe (the entire scene was unnecessary for this movie). The Falcon plays a brief role in the movie in order to solidly put Ant-Man onto the Avengers‘ radar. I imagine that Marvel chose the Falcon as the Avenger to insert into the film because he is known and integrated, and not “new” to the team (e.g.: Vision and Scarlett Witch), but is not a character so big that he would steal the movie, and, quite honestly, is also played by an actor who is relatively inexpensive. Ant-Man also explores “another dimension” when he becomes impossibly small, which must be setting the stage for the upcoming Doctor Strange. Finally, this movie has two post-credits scene, one which sets up the Ant-Man sequel and one which sets up the thirteenth movie in the Marvel movie franchise.
Finally, I have to mention the last climatic fight scene between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket. First of all, it is mercifully short. It eschews this tendency of late to make the climatic fight scene an endlessly long slug fest which, at some point, becomes boring and, ironically, anti-climactic as one wonders how the combatants could possibly take all that punishment instead of rooting for the good guy. Instead, this scene in Ant-Man is fun and well choreographed and interesting due to the fact that the characters constantly shrink and enlarge in size throughout the fight, which is a new element to these scenes. Marvel did a really good job making the scene fun and, in fact, funny. Two insect-sized guys are duking it out and, from their perspective, it is all very intense and powerful but, with well placed comic timing, the scene would pan out to reveal them fighting on a Thomas-the-Tank-Engine table, and the apparently huge items being tossed and the carnage being wrought is really just some toys harmlessly being flung about. I will not spoil it here, but the coup de grace on the bad guys – caused in one place by Lang and another by Pym – are pretty hilarious for comic book movie standards.
So, this movie is great for fans and very entertaining for non-fans. Do not expect great cinema but do expect a well done comic book movie that both honors the formula but also tries to make it interesting in its setting and approach. If you are invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you will want to see this film; if you are a comic book fan, you will enjoy and appreciate the film; and, if you are a non-comic-book-fan, while you will not find it necessary to specifically seek out and watch the movie, you will nonetheless enjoy it if you watch it when it happens to be on the television in your vicinity.