No need to call the Avengers
When Marvel Studios super-producer/ godfather Kevin Feige began planning his monumental cinematic universe in the early 2000s, one of the earliest projects he started was a film vehicle for the obscure Marvel Comics hero Ant-Man. Feige hired widely-sought, multi-talented filmmaker Edgar Wright (Shawn of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and writing partner Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) to place this micro-hero on the same stage and scale as the incredible Hulk and the invincible Iron Man. Unfortunately, this union fell apart in a rather public uncoupling with Wright (still receiving a “Story By” credit) and Feige taking opposite stances on the movie’s greater connections to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The studio struggled to hire a willing director but finally found their man in veteran comedic director Peyton Reed (Yes Man, The Break-Up). Luckily, the director turns in an excellent superhero film that plays and jokes on superhero epics in the same genre (and studio). While audiences will never see Wright’s complete vision, Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man joins the MCU as one of the strongest entries and a fitting conclusion to its second phase.
Paul Rudd (Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, They Came Together) stars as the titular hero—a hero in a completely different league than the Avengers or Daredevil. Rudd plays Scott Lang, a criminal with a set of extremely valuable burglary skills. He isn’t a trained assassin, from an ethereal dimension, wasn’t part of an experiment (governmental or otherwise), and hasn’t a cent to his name. You won’t see the Hulk working at a Baskin Robbins, Thor getting released from San Quentin, or Black Widow moving in to a dirty apartment with a crew of fellow ex-convicts for roommates. While having nowhere near the riches of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, Rudd’s protagonist has the same deadpan delivery to go with a sharp wit. Audiences relate to Scott Lang/ Ant-Man on a level they never have with another Marvel hero with his multiple character flaws and lack of intellectual superiority over other characters.
Academy Award-winner Michael Douglas (Wall Street, And So It Goes)co-stars in a semi-leading role as Dr. Hank Pym, a brilliant mind who sees something in Rudd’s Scott that nobody else can. A former-protégé-turned-megalomaniac begins toying with a once-thought-buried formula created by Pym, causing the doctor to enlist Scott’s services as a heist man. Douglas joins Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Jeff Bridges, and Anthony Hopkins as iconic stars adding a necessary measure of class in order to take the fantastic MCU premises seriously. Evangeline Lilly (“Lost,” Real Steel) plays Hope, a part of the Ant-Man team and daughter of Pym. Hope works in her father’s laboratories as an inside woman of sorts digging up intelligence on Pym’s old business partner. She’s also well-versed in the Ant-Man suit technology and teaches Lang how to fight. Despite the established, star-studded lead performances, character actor Michael Peña (Fury, End of Watch) steals each and every scene featuring “Luis,” Scott’s best friend and former cellmate. Peña provides the comic relief beyond Rudd’s classic deadpan rhythms. Luis talks fast and has a hilarious taste for the finer things in life.
Corey Stoll (“The Strain,” “House of Cards”) plays Darren Cross, the film’s antagonist. He has a deep history with Hank Pym as his old protégé and business partner before ultimately taking control of the company. As Cross approaches recreating Pym’s formula with dangerous implications, the necessity of the Ant-Man arises to prevent the knowledge from getting in the wrong hands. Stoll’s villain isn’t as fleshed out as one would prefer, becoming yet another Marvel bad guy who predictably matches the hero suit-for-suit and power-for-power. However, it’s Stoll who makes the audience take Ant-Man seriously, not Rudd. Rudd turns in an excellent lead performance, but Stoll’s opening scene is essentially a monologue about the advantages and possibilities of technology related to an Ant-Man-type suit that makes it rather difficult not to get a little caught up in the story.
With action sets on a scale much smaller, but far more imaginative than Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man closes out “Phase Two” of the MCU with a much-needed breath of fresh air. Director Peyton Reed and star/ co-writer Paul Rudd show no fear twisting the superhero genre and making some memorable scenes for pop culture fans. While the predictable villain arc makes the rest of the plot foreseeable (never forget a villain sets the limitations), the second Marvel Studios movie of the summer keeps the unbelievably successful streak of quality blockbuster filmmaking alive. While an unlikely hero in a universe populated with Thor, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and now Spider-Man, Ant-Man earns his place among their ranks in only his first movie for an impressive showing on such a troubled pre-production.