Oh hell yes, Ant-Man

Despite production problems, Paul Rudd and an unconventional storyline mercifully separate this film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s repetitive, stakes-free funk.

Paul Rudd in Ant-Man
Ant-Man’s very public production woes spelled trouble from the start. Developed for years and years by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), it was gearing up to be the funny and loose Marvel movie, where distinctly un-super actors like Paul Rudd got to put on a suit and save the world. Wright exited the project at some point, citing creative differences, and it looked like Marvel Studios was moving the project in a more conventional direction.

It’s not hard to see why Marvel and Wright may have butted heads. In the highly conventional, highly structured world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man is so unconventional it may as well be Jean-Luc Godard. I’ve complained repeatedly of the staid, repetitive and stakes-free Marvel films in the last few years, and while Ant-Man is certainly nothing more than a good time at the movies, the fact that it doesn’t rely on timeworn Marvel tropes like the good-guy-who-is-actually-not-good-because-mind-control and fight scenes in decrepit brick buildings in Europe feels downright orgasmic.

antman0002Scott Lang (Rudd) has just served three years in San Quentin for a Robin Hood-like heist perpetrated against his last employer. Lang is determined to go down the straight and narrow path for the sake of his young daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), but when he can’t even hold a job at Baskin-Robbins and his ex-wife (Judy Greer) and her new beau (Bobby Cannavale) request that he stop seeing his daughter, Lang accepts a burglary job alongside his old cellmate Luis (Michael Peña). The heist yields nothing more than what Lang assumes is an old motorcycle suit; he soon finds out that the suit has incredible shrinking powers that bring him down to the size of an insect while also increasing his strength tenfold.

Lang getting his hands on the suit is no coincidence; it was planted there by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) for Lang to find and further the work that Pym laid out in the ’70s as Ant-Man. Lang’s expertise comes in handy when Pym’s former protégé (Corey Stoll) develops a similar suit that he plans to sell to the nefarious characters over at HYDRA.

Despite Edgar Wright’s absence in the director’s chair, his paw prints remain all over Ant-Man. The script (which he co-wrote with Attack the Block’s Joe Cornish, with additional contributions by Rudd and Anchorman director Adam McKay) retains much of Wright’s sense of humour, propensity for idiosyncratic action scenes and love of genre-bending. This last point is particularly egregious since Ant-Man is likely the first Marvel movie that isn’t explicitly about saving the world from bad dudes by tearing through a major metropolitan city and/or expansive soundstage somewhere in Eastern Europe. Ant-Man is closer in form and content to a heist film, meaning there is mercifully only one scene in which a shiny CGI contraption whaps another CGI contraption for minutes on end. Even these scenes take on a new life when they happen at a near microscopic level, switching the tired settings for bathtubs and miniature train sets.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to completely judge Ant-Man on its own merits. Despite having its own idiosyncratic style (exemplified by a handful of Drunk History-esque sequences in which Peña blows through exposition by being dubbed over every character in the flashback) and a supremely likeable lead in Rudd (who clearly has done some work towards beefcake status but does not shake the ineffable Ruddness we’ve all come to expect), it nevertheless fits in rather neatly with the rest of the universe. It’s not as much of an outlier as it would seem, but it feels damn good to just see something fun for a change.

Granted, some of Ant-Man feels as staid and tired as it sounds — the stuff with the daughter is predictably hokey, and a mid-film attempt to tie the film in with its brethren feels like the laziest possible fan service (let’s just say that, more than anything, the choice of Avenger cameo betrays the film’s production woes and uncertain future more than the actual quality of the film). The film has a looseness and a facility to it, however, that leads me to believe that we’re likely to have to endure the big tentpoles to fully savour the smaller idiosyncrasies. Ant-Man is still just a superhero movie, but it shows that the future of superheroes might be in pulling back, not expanding. ■
Ant-Man opens in theatres on Friday, July 17. Watch the trailer here: