I’ve always wondered where our preoccupation with size came from. Maybe cause I’ve never been the biggest, or because I’ve always been more taken by the diminutive: as a self-entitled critic, attention to detail is my craft. Fortunately for movie-goers, so it goes for the folks at Marvel and Ant-Man director Peyton Reed. This edition’s got a new musk, and underneath that an exoskeletal husk of comedic explosion and graphic excitement that rivals its full-sized super-compatriots. With Ant-Man, the folks at Marvel forgot how to make a superhero movie as usual, and pumped out one of the best Marvel adaptations yet.
Paul Rudd (of I Love You, Man, Anchorman, and This is 40 fame) is Scott Lang, a Robin Hood-esque burglar who breaks into retired billionaire-genius Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) house to steal enough money to pay child support for his daughter, and instead stumbles upon the Ant-Man suit and the Pym particle that causes him to shrink to ant-size. Pym’s been looking for a suit-or (pardon the pun) to help he and his daughter (Evangeline Lilly) stop his ex-protégé Darren Cross’ (Corey Stoll) plan to develop a shrinking particle of his own. With extra aid from Rudd’s cronies (Michael Peña, T.I., and David Dastmalchian), they initiate a plan to break into Cross’ lab and destroy “Yellow-Jacket,” the super-suit built to rival Ant-Man.
At its armored core, Ant-Man is less a superhero film than it is a heist/comedy minus Eddie Murphy or George Clooney, plus a supra-heroic millimeter-sized Rudd. Just as Marvel’s done with recent iterations (such as Daredevil), they’ve taken Ant-Man and thrown it into a completely new genre as far as hero movies go. This departure fits well within the Marvel universe and allows Rudd and co. to spread their wings and do something relatively new. In a sense, it keeps the film relevant to the massive and lets Ant-Man stake its claim as another king on the Marvel (ant-)hill, instead of leaving it at the bottom to fend for its own.
Ant-Man represents another Marvel achievement in graphic splendor and cinematic excess. This isn’t Mad Max: Fury Road or Star Wars VII: almost no practical effects were used in building what is likely the smallest battlefield the world’s seen on screen. Don’t worry: no ants were harmed in the making of this film. I’m not so sure any ants were even used in the making of this film.
What that lends to is a visual experience grandiose in its minuscular madness; a dime for scale won’t suffice on this level — try a grain of salt. Ant-Man is frenetic like an atomic reaction or a molecular interaction, it’s kinetic in its thrill and Rudd’s 5:5 in his pull:chill. This results in sequences where Ant-Man goes bite size, dashing and darting around fighting full-sized humans and even taking down an Avenger. There’s a scene where Rudd goes ‘sub-atomic,’ shrinking endlessly through a kaleidoscopic sequence of atoms and electrons, distorting reality in a way I’ve never witnessed. Ant-Man goes full meta jacket.
Rudd may not have a team of Avengers and superheroes on his side, but what he lacks in size, he makes up for with thousands of ants that react and move with his every order. Riding on the back of the aforementioned “Antony,” he leads an army of Hymenopteras into battle, using them as accessories to complete the heist. Some ants act as electrical conductors, others as flying transport, and even some as killer ants. With his crew of homicidal insects, he’s the antipodal Tom Cruise and his mission, should he choose to accept it, is fully antpossible. (Sorry.)
The name itself would have you think a titular superhero like Ant-Man has no place in the Marvel Universe, where heroes get bigger and stronger, not smaller. Yet, Peyton Reed’s new entry is far more heroic than most, and follows Marvel’s recent trend of shooting for the goofy, wild and funny. Just look at who they got to hue the script: comedians Rudd and Joe Cornish, Will Ferrell’s writing partner Adam McKay, and Hot Fuzz screenwriter Edgar Wright. Indeed, Ant-Man is hilarious (the funniest Marvel film yet), and one of the funnier films this year. No small feat.
Of course, that’s mostly due to the massive amount of size comedy packed in. Like any kid on the playground too short to reach the monkey bars, Ant-Man’s got to find a way to match its peers. Ant-Man is the anti-Vince Vaughn film — it explores Napoleonic complex looking up, not down. There’s Thomas the Tank-Engine shrinking and expanding, Paul Rudd naming his flying steed “Antony,” Evangeline Lilly commenting on the Ant-Man’s size… Every instant is filled with short bursts of humor, which is refreshing in a superhero film. Michael Peña is the least ‘Marvel’ character of all time, a hilarious petty thief who was sent to jail for robbing not one, but two smoothie machines from Baskin Robbins.
Douglas gets to try his hand at Gordon Tech-o, a super-genius ex-Ant-Man-turned-scientist out to save the world one inch at a time. In Lilly and Rudd, he finds two willing partners. Ultimately, Ant-Man’s only real fault is its villain, an under-developed Stoll who gets to reprise his usual role as the venous heinous bald dick with low self-esteem. It’s the same performance he always gives — a good one — but his character isn’t given much to play with. Instead of the usual psycho-genius killer with a back-story, he gets the psycho-genius killer with questionable motives and brushed-over back story. But with all the elements the filmmakers fit in, this is just a small qualm.
Ant-Man is pest controlled, a refreshing take on the increasingly stale superhero concept. Though Rudd might not be the coolest Ant-venger yet, he packs a concentrated punch in a smaller package. He’s the Brian Fantana of superheroes, but for him, 60% of the time works every time. Douglas and Lilly play well off of each other, and the host of minor characters like Peña and T.I. is fittingly ridiculous. It’s the Anchorman of Marvel movies, a eusocial experiment in de minimis, a goldilocks ‘just right’ with all of the superheroism, effects and excitement packaged in. I never liked Avengers, so I don’t hesitate to call this latest MCU installment far better than that over-saturated mess.
At least in this case, size really doesn’t matter.