Marvel Studios has seemingly got to the point where they can do no wrong (with the exception of Iron Man 3 but despite my opinion to the contrary, a lot of people went to see it and the film made Marvel Studios a boatload of money). When a studio produces a string of hit movies, it's inevitable that people start predicting (some even anticipating) when the studio is going to produce its first flop. Some people felt that Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy might be its first bomb. After all, who would be interested in a bunch of second-string characters (and that's being generous) gallivanting through space? Turns out that a lot of them did with Guardians being one of Marvel's biggest hits to date, outperforming its top solo characters such as Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man (with the exception of Iron Man 3).
Personally, I believe that Guardians of the Galaxy proved that moviegoers are equally interested in entertaining stories as much as they are in big name characters. Granted, characters like Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America are attractions to fans of each character but it's hard to believe that their films would have spawned sequels had the first ones been dull. Guardians of the Galaxy demonstrated that you can cultivate a love for pretty much unknown characters if the film is entertaining and engages the audience.
Despite all this, Ant-Man seemed like a long shot at best. While Ant-Man is one of Marvel Comics' oldest characters (and a founding member of the Avengers), he never was able to sustain his own title and always seemed better suited as a supporting player. Subsequent attempts to freshen up the character by having new people assume the Ant-Man identity have met with mixed results.
While more than a few people questioned the bankability of Ant-Man, I was taken with the trailer. It looked like a great action movie in the mighty Marvel Studios tradition. Although the film started off slow at the box office, it got good reviews and has since performed well. After a few weeks I was able to see it. After watching the film itself, I have to say that the film danced a very fine line between clichéd cheese and comic book classic. Watching the film, there were moments when it seemed like it might fall apart but in the end, it delivered, thanks to a good cast and a fast-moving plot.
The plot is full of scenarios we have seen before. Like the comic books the films are based on, it's pretty difficult to strike new ground with the genre. Here, we have the scientist who refuses to turn over a remarkable invention for fear that it will be weaponized and a protégé who sets out to develop the weapon for his own nefarious ends. We have a dad who's trying to connect with his young daughter after his ex remarries (in this case the situation is made even more complicated since the father is an ex-con and the daughter's step-father is a cop). Then we have the troubled relationship between a father and child tied in with the mysterious death of the child's mother. Since it's a superhero film, there's the resident discovery of super powers (in this case achieved by a suit) and the fun and mayhem with discovering how to use it.
At its core, Ant-Man is a heist film. A mastermind (Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas) recruits a troubled man (Scott Lang, played by Paul Rudd) with potential and gives him the chance to redeem himself. Like most heist films, a crew is assembled to pull off a seemingly impossible mission. Romantic sparks fly between the protagonist and the female co-star (Evangeline Lilly who plays Pym's daughter Hope). Along the way, the characters grow (and in this film, literally) and everyone ends up sitting around the campfire singing "Kumbaya".
Paul Rudd does a great job playing the film's hero Scott Lang. While I found his resemblance to Ben Affleck to be eerie, he's got the same spirit of fun that Chris Pratt used to make Star Lord so memorable in Guardians of the Galaxy. His sense of humor coupled with his skepticism at the craziness going around him makes you root for him when you see the believable lengths he goes to reunite with and protect his daughter.
Evangeline Lilly is terrific in Ant-Man as the film's female lead. While it's easy to label her as the stereotypical tough as nails businesswoman with a tender side, the story is more complex and Lilly does a good job conveying the different facets of her character. She's more than the standard love interest and puts her own spin on things. She interacts well with Michael Douglas in playing his estranged daughter. Their efforts to reconcile and the forces that keep surfacing to drive them apart makes for an engaging sub-plot.
Corey Stoll rounds things off as the film's villain, scientist Darren Cross. While his character is pretty much a retread of Obadiah Stane from Iron Man, he holds his own, keeping the film from seeing like a rehash. Stoll seems like he would have been a much better Lex Luthor than Jesse Eisenberg in the upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. While he doesn't project the same level of menace as Jeff Bridges did in Iron Man, he's perfectly suited for a film that balances comedy with drama.
Of course the film's anchor is veteran star Michael Douglas. Whereas other actors might have made the film's time-worn sequences such as the training montage and the plans for the heist seem clichéd, Douglas adds a gravitas to the film. You get the feeling that this is a life or death situation and only Douglas' character Hank Pym can get the characters through it all.
One of the things I liked about the film was that the writers didn't ignore the existence of other heroes in Marvel Studio's shared universe. When Scott Lang asks Hank Pym why they don't contact the Avengers, Pym's answer is very logical. It's nice to see that just because people are heroes, doesn't mean they're all on the same page (and something tells me this will really become evident in Captain America: Civil War).
As a heist film, Ant-Man doesn't really break any new ground. At the same time, the plan to pull off the heist doesn't seem so complex that it borders on convoluted. Like any heist film, things don't go according to plan and part of the fun is watching how the characters improvise to save the day. Director Peyton Reed maintains a sense of excitement and fun, incorporating the hero's miniature nature to add a new dimension to the fine art of the heist.
Since the film is about a man who can shrink down to the size of an ant, excellent special effects are vital if the film is to succeed. Thankfully, Ant-Man delivers some impressive visuals. We've come a long way from the days of Land of the Giants where people were scotch-taped to giant props of pencils and so on. Just when you think you've seen every type of super hero action sequence, Ant-Man changes the scale of things, giving you a fresh perspective. The battle scenes are novel thanks to Ant-Man's size, providing new visuals for an audience that probably figures they have seen every type of superhero battle imaginable.
The character of Ant-Man has more to do than just being ant-size. He communicates with ants, enlisting their help on his various exploits. The film has fun showing the audience the different type of ants and how instrumental they are to his success. The only drawback is for people who don't like ants. There are several scenes involving ants and if they creep you out, you're in for some scares.
While Ant-Man may not have been a blockbuster, it's an entertaining film. Even if there are no future Ant-Man films, Marvel has done a good job of introducing the character and shown once again that fans will go to see lesser known characters if the film is done right. Hopefully the good word of mouth that Ant-Man has received will see the film perform well in the home video market. If that happens, a sequel is clearly not out of the question.