Ant-Man is the perfect antidote to Avengers Age of Ultron. The first Avengers toed right up to the line where candy becomes a stomachache; its sequel blasted past that line into overwhelming nausea. It was still enjoyable, but it felt bloated, like it was bursting at the seams. Ant-Man is the opposite of that. It has a few moments where it forces its connections to the greater Marvel cinematic universe, but otherwise it is a peppy, light superhero movie.
After the gargantuan success of Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man became the movie that would end Marvel’s domination of movie theaters. It certainly had the making of a failure, a movie about a mostly unknown superhero that had lost its director midway through production. Disaster would not have been especially surprising. What we got instead is a small superhero film that makes in character for what it lacks in spectacle. I can’t help but be wistful about the true Edgar Wright version that never was; Wright has produced a handful of the best movies to come out in the last decade and losing him as the director was absolutely a blow to the film. However, the end result is still largely satisfying. It isn’t the best from Marvel, but I wouldn’t put it at the bottom either.
Instead of trying to untangle the Gordian Knot that is Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, this movie wisely decided to sideline him into a mentor role and focus instead on Scott Lang, he successor. The biggest problem with Pym would have been that his one memorable story is also the one that kind of makes him irredeemable (mostly because no matter how many times he is redeemed, comic writers keep coming up with was to undo or redo that redemption). Scott’s story, that he is a former criminal trying to go straight for the sake of his daughter, is much easier to handle. It also allows the film to set up as a sort of superhero heist movie.
For the bulk of its runtime Ant-Man deftly weaves Marvel history around the pair of Ant-Men that are its primary characters. It doesn’t stray too far from the usual Marvel origin formula, but does add a few interesting touches, namely those heist bits. The stakes are low for a superhero movie. Yes, if the Pym’s formula gets out it could be disastrous for the world, but it is mostly about Hank trying to reclaim his legacy while Scott finds redemption for his criminal past. There is plenty of humor, some hit perfectly, other jokes are a little to broad, but it comes together as a delightful, and oddly personal, superhero romp.
It is easy to see that the script went through a late in the game rewrite. Some great symmetry, which judging by his previous movies I am certain Wright would have managed brilliantly, is left sort of soggy. Both Hank and Scott are men with daughters. This obvious point of comparison is used a bit, but it is largely left unexplored. More time is spent with the comic relief of Scott’s heist team. There is a completely out of place, but not necessarily unenjoyable, diversion with Falcon from Captain America. It is one of Ant-Man’s only overt connections to the current status quo of Marvel’s movies, but it is even more distracting than similar scenes in Iron Man 2 that killed the middle portion of that movie. And Hank’s daughter Hope feels like another wasted opportunity for Marvel to actually have a superheroine in a movie.
Ant-Man’s greatest strength is that it doesn’t try to be more that it is. It stays small in contrast to Avengers Age of Utlron’s unwieldy bigness and works for it. Its greatest weakness is that it feels like it could have been more without sacrificing anything. Despite the inherent likeability of Paul Rudd, Ant-Man doesn’t quite nail either the humor or the heart. Both are near misses. It is a movie that does everything just about right and brings nothing new to the table. It is enjoyable, but forgettable.