When I think of Paul Rudd, I don’t think superhero. With his average-guy personality (and looks, for that matter), combined with his lovingly awe-shucks attitude toward life, Rudd has built a career playing the ordinary everyman with a childish maturity. In other words, Rudd is normal — there isn’t a whole lot that makes him “super.” Trying to picture Rudd running alongside (and/or fighting) any of the Avengers seems outlandish on its face. He’s too gentle to be a fighter; too plain to be a god; too kindhearted to be a badass. But it turns out, those qualities and more are exactly what’s needed to give Ant-Man its voice.
While the Avengers are busy “dropping cities from the sky,” Ant-Man grounds itself in the ordinary, even as it explores and builds upon the extraordinary. The last few films in the Marvel cannon have expanded their world through universal outreach, by which I mean, anything goes when it comes to tapping into outer space, extraterrestrials and new worlds beyond Earth’s borders. But with Ant-Man, we’re given something much smaller (pun intended? Maybe…) — a real world problem. Geneticist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), having once worked for Howard Stark (John Slattery, reprising the role he originated in Iron-Man 2) as one of the possible founders of S.H.I.E.L.D., created a serum that would allow a man to shrink to the size of an ant. Hank refused to give the formula to Stark, knowing that the power of such technology was too dangerous if it ever fell into the wrong hands. So when an ex-protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), cracks the code to the formula, Hank must find a way to stop him from selling it to Hydra — represented here by super-slimy agent, Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan).
In comes Scott Lang (Rudd), a charming thief (excuse me, burglar) who seeks to leave his life of crime behind so he can share custody of his daughter, Cassie (the precociously adorable Abby Ryder Fortson), with ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer, who seems to be popping up a lot in big, tent-pole movies these days). It turns out to be harder than he thinks — with a criminal record (for having hacked into a former employer’s database to release millions of dollars to the general public), not even Baskin-Robbins will hire him. So in order to get the money to pay the child support he owes and earn his chance to be the father he so desperately wants to be, he reluctantly takes a job breaking into a millionaire’s safe, only to find out there’s nothing in the safe but an odd-looking suit. This particular sequence is terrific in showcasing Scott’s ability as a burglar, as well as his intelligence in Jerry-rigging solutions to problems on the fly, MacGyvering several techniques in order to get to and inside the vault, proving to Hank (and the audience) just why Rudd is perfectly cast to put on the suit and become a superhero.
For any fans of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, the first time Scott uses the suit are fantastically nostalgic. It produces the same fun, imaginative concepts while remaining true to its own voice. It might be a bit jarring at first to accept how easily Scott survives most of what happens, but it’s explained (though very subtly) after Scott finally meets Hank and his daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who each have a different attitude toward Scott’s usefulness — Hank believes Scott is his only choice to destroy Cross’s yellowjacket suit (and the information behind it), while Hope feels she’s better suited to the task, having not only infiltrated Cross’s team by pretending to be a loyal ally, but she’s been training to use the suit all of her life… or at least since her mother died in a mysterious plane crash and was subsequently abandoned to boarding school. But as we soon find out, there’s more to Hank’s reasoning than he’s letting on, which dovetails nicely into the scheme of the plot, as well as the characterization of all three characters and why they belong as part of the Marvel universe.
And don’t think director Peyton Reed skimps on the Marvel tie-ins. Beginning with the initial meeting between Pym, Stark and Hayley Atwell’s Agent Peggy Carter, the rest of the film is full of subtle to not so subtle nods to previous films. The most exciting is a scene in which Scott is asked to break into an old abandoned S.H.E.I.L.D. warehouse, which so happens to be the same warehouse S.H.E.I.L.D. recently converted into the new Avengers headquarters last seen at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Instead of aborting the mission, Scott decides to try his luck and ends up squaring off with an actual member of the Avengers, a beautifully choreographed fight sequence that solidifies Ant-Man’s capabilities of joining the team of ultimate superheroes. (Well, the B-Team, at least… we’ll have to wait until Captain America: Civil War to see if he can truly stand toe-to-toe with the big boys).
As for the rest of the film, there is a somewhat ridiculous subplot that involves Maggie’s boyfriend, Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), a cop in hot pursuit of Scott after he’s arrested for trying to return the suit and subsequently skips out of his holding cell when the ants give the suit back. It’s not ridiculous in the fact that Paxton is chasing him (after all, he despises Scott for his past career as a burglar and his inability to take care of his family — and more importantly, his daughter), it’s that Reed for some reason makes Paxton a bit of a doofus, bordering on cartoon silliness. It deviates from the tone Reed has set up based on the original concept and script by Edgar Wright, whose name is still all over this movie, and whose influence certainly hides in the shadows. So much so that I have to wonder how much different the film would have been had Wright not exited the project. But as it stands, Reed does a fine job balancing the absurd with the ordinary, and though some of his choices can be hit-or-miss (especially when it comes to Scott’s best friend, Luis (Michael Peña), who can’t help but recount almost every detail, whether pertinent or not, when telling Scott how he obtained information from his sources), the essence of Marvel and the continuation of its grand design remain intact and prove that you don’t have to be a god-like warrior to be a solid superhero — you simply need to be a devoted father with a kind, warm spirit.
My Grade: A
Next week, new movies include Pixels, Paper Towns and Southpaw. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.