Last summer, everyone seemed shocked that Guardians of the Galaxy was a great, really fun movie. Before its release, conversations were peppered with skeptical remarks about a talking raccoon and a walking tree. Afterwards, of course, everyone loved it and commended Marvel for being able to do what is just second-nature to the studio now.
Now here we are, one summer later, and audiences are skeptical that Ant-Man can be a great, really fun movie. Leading up to its release, conversations have been peppered with skeptical remarks about the main character’s lameness and production troubles.
It’s amazing how poor people’s short-term memories are.
Ant-Man, the twelfth Marvel Studios production and the last of its Phase Two series, centers on Scott Lang, an ex-con played by the inhumanly charming Paul Rudd. As we meet him, Lang is just being released from San Quentin for committing an altruistic burglary Robin Hood himself would’ve envied.
Lang has vowed to get his life clean, but can’t get many jobs (or keep the ones he gets) because of his record. When some old thieving buddies tell him about a job they could use him for, Lang agrees.
It turns out, the house Lang robs belongs to Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who has been expecting Lang and even arranged the job as a test of sorts. He bequeaths (read: lets Lang steal) a special suit that gives its wearer a fantastic ability: with the push of a button, the wearer can shrink down to the size of a penny.
Pym invented the technology in the ’60s, and served as a secret superhero for S.H.I.E.L.D. for a while, but retired and intentionally kept the details for his tech hidden because of how easily it could be abused for nefarious purposes.
Now, though, Pym’s former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has unlocked the power and plans to create armies of miniaturized soldiers to pre-emptively eliminate any American threats. Pym, along with his mole daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily), has days to train burglar extraordinaire Lang to use the suit to get into Cross’ secret facility and destroy his project before it can be unleashed on the world.
While the stakes may seem small compared to the space opera of Guardians of the Galaxy or the near-global extinction of The Avengers: Age of Ultron, it works well for Ant-Man. Much like Iron Man or The Incredible Hulk, the relatively self-contained narrative warrants less gravitas, which allows Ant-Man to overcome its biggest obstacle: its ridiculousness.
While a movie about a man who can shrink and grow in size shouldn’t seem any more preposterous than a 90-year-old super-soldier, a global, Neo-Nazi government conspiracy, or warring Norse gods, Ant-Man is burdened with a preconceived silliness. Very smartly, the film embraces it wholeheartedly, making more fun of itself than you could try to. As such, it goes down as one of the funniest movies Marvel has yet made.
Rudd is as reliably good as ever, born to play roles like Scott Lang with aplomb. Much as Robert Redford did in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Douglas steals every scene he has, tapping into a verve he’s rarely shown since the days of Traffic and Wonder Boys. Lily and Stoll are both perfectly adept at playing the two-dimensional roles they’re given, but Lily’s character is basically just Liv Tyler’s from The Incredible Hulk, and Stoll’s is basically just Jeff Bridges’ from Iron Man.
What makes the movie so impressive is the creativity it has, both in its narrative ideas and in the rich exploration of its concept of shrinking sizes. Extended sequences like Lang finding himself stuck inside a bathtub or a fight sequence between two miniaturized characters inside of a locked briefcase leave the mind reeling with the excitement of true possibility.
Marvel is (*knock on wood*) infallible right now. They made Thor work, they made Captain America work (eventually), they made Guardians of the Galaxy work. They are masters of superhero storytelling like nothing cinema has seen, and while they may one day drop the ball, that time’s not yet. Ant-Man may seem smaller than some other Marvel movies, but don’t mistake scale for quality. Or awesomeness.