Compared to the two Marvel films that immediately preceded it, Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man provides a welcome respite from extinction-level threats and superhuman bombast. Instead, and in what can only be considered power-set-appropriate, everything feels smaller and more human. That’s not to say that there’s not plenty at stake, or that the superhuman action isn’t dependably fun, and occasionally really fun, to watch—the film just lacks the genocidal ambition of Ronan in Guardians of the Galaxy and Ultron in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Instead, we get Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a smart guy whose act of Robin Hood-flavored corporate thievery lands him in prison. Upon his release, he just wants to earn an honest living and be a good dad to his young daughter, but darn if that isn’t difficult to do on the outside. Perhaps one last score?
By now, the plotting and expectations of such a setup are practically embedded in a moviegoer’s DNA. But much as the ’70s spy thriller got a boost when injected with some Super Soldier Formula in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, so too does the heist genre benefit from prolonged exposure to Pym Particles. The heist components—the ex-con trying to make good, the motley crew of thieves, the hard-to-crack facility, etc.—are ultimately just a convenient delivery device, allowing Kevin Feige and company to introduce another character in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Opposing our hero? We have that standby of all three Iron Man films—the maniacal industrialist (with a hint of psycho), this time in the form of Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Cross is an inverted version of Jeff Bridges’ Obadiah Stane from the first Iron Man film, having obvious and pronounced mentor issues with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), which in turn has him focused on the money and military application of Pym’s coveted technology. (Cross and the Yellow Jacket armor make for a menacing-enough foe, though the comic book collector in me longs for the gloriously-impractical-for-live-action costume from the comics—ah, that was the stuff.)
Ant-Man has more than its share of logic lapses and convenient (read: sloppy) scripting, but most viewers won’t care. In much the same way Guardians of the Galaxy was powered by the charisma and affability of Chris Pratt, Ant-Man is buoyed by the charm of Rudd. The combination of a charismatic lead, a solid supporting cast, and the debut and dramatization of a new (to moviegoers) superpower (or two) has proved a winning formula for Marvel Studios for the last, oh, 10 or so films now, and it’s no different here.
With Ant-Man, the MCU’s Phase Two ends on a small note, but it’s just the right one.
Director: Peyton Reed
Writer: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd (screenplay); Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish (story); Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby (comic book)
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Cory Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Abby Ryder Fortson, Michael Peña
Release Date: July 17, 2015
Michael Burgin is the film editor for Paste, which means he totally gets dibs on reviews. You can follow him on Twitter, though he doubts you’ll find the experience very rewarding.