I often review films of wholly unknown quality, but I was perhaps most skeptical about this one: there’s just not that much “superheroic” about a character with a suit that lets him shrink to insect-size, even if he gains super strength (hence the “Ant” moniker) in the process. As often happens, however, I was pleasantly surprised.
Master thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is enlisted by the aging Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) to help in their war against wicked industrialist Darren Cross (Corey Stoll, of “House of Cards”). The stakes? Dr. Pym’s stolen atomic-shrinking technology, on the cusp of militarization, with the potential to change the face of warfare forever. At some point, Dr. Pym has also ascertained how to mentally control insects (it’s never quite clear how this is happening) that a micro-soldier can call upon for assistance.
A priori, it bears note that this concept is ludicrous, even for the genre (we’re talking about an incredible shrinking protagonist who triggers an electrical surge by leading an army of EMP-equipped ants into a computer server room). The Chekhov’s-guns in this plot are exceedingly overt, particularly after the past ten years of superhero films. Moreover, at times “Ant-Man” struggles to maintain a consistent tone (a la the sly humor of last summer’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”). The stakes here never feel quite massive enough to justify the onscreen hand-wringing, and the movie’s emotional moments feel out-of-place alongside the absolute bonkers-ness of the main plot arc.
But despite all that, “Ant-Man” is supremely charming. Rudd is an immensely likable lead, and Douglas, cast in a clear stroke of genius, is fantastic – it’s a shame it’s taken this long to bring him into the genre. Not only that, but the sheer absurdity of the premise leads to frequent laugh-out-loud moments (there’s a micro-sized battle on a Thomas the Tank Engine toy train set, for instance). Perhaps most commendably, “Ant-Man” doesn’t rely on constant skull-splittingly-loud combat scenes to propel its plot forward. The film’s fisticuffs are few and far between, with much more attention being paid to the pure quirkiness of the man/insect dynamic (reminiscent of Michael Crichton’s final novel “Micro”). I’ve never seen any movie quite like this; if nothing else, it’s a supremely original concept executed with panache.
Finally, “Ant-Man” is solid precisely because it doesn’t try to establish dozens of tie-ins and callbacks to other Marvel Studios film properties. Rather than feeling like an extended teaser for the next slate of Avengers blockbusters, “Ant-Man” is enjoyable as a standalone flick and doesn’t get knotted up in its own mythology. While that does mean that there’s virtually nothing of philosophical substance on offer, this isn’t the sort of movie that asks its viewers for complex analysis.
In short, as a dose of midsummer exuberance, “Ant-Man” delivers. It isn’t transformative, but it’s very fun – and that’s decidedly enough.
Though not without a few misfires, “Ant-Man” is creative, entertaining, and lighthearted summer froth.
Normalized Score: 3.4