It's amazing that Ant-Man isn't awful. Back in 2006, the Cornetto Trilogy's Edgar Wright was originally tapped to direct and co-write this unlikely superhero movie with Attack the Block director Joe Cornish. That didn't work out. Marvel replaced Wright with Peyton Reed, who directed Bring It On, and frequent Will Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay and star Paul Rudd took on revising the script.
You know how the saying goes: too many cooks make a delicious, technically flawless broth enjoyed by critics and audiences alike.
The trailer for Ant-Man didn't do anything to dispel the stink of death in the air. In retrospect, it was off-base to the point of passive aggression. There's lots of staring, shouting, and music cues that could have been borrowed from Hans Zimmer's melodramatic Interstellar score. (By contrast, check out the Japanese trailer. Wouldn't you rather see this movie? I have no idea what the narrator is saying, but I'm sold.)
But not only is Ant-Man — out in theaters today — not a bad movie, it's one of the better (and certainly one of the stranger) Marvel efforts to date.
Some comic book movies work hard to convince us to take them seriously, with a borderline masturbatory devotion to their own mythology. At this point, the phrase "Infinity Stones" switches my brain into sleep mode.
But Ant-Man is a movie about a grown man (Rudd as Scott Lang, an ex-con and semi-reformed cat burglar) who puts on a ridiculous-looking suit that makes him very, very small. Ant-Man knows that this is silly. Ant-Man knows that you know that this is silly. It works so well because it embraces its premise with an enthusiasm that's disarming and genuinely funny.
If I have to watch one more overwrought superhero movie tear up the streets of a generic metropolis while the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, I will eat the greasy bag my popcorn came in. We've been desensitized to that level of destruction, which is exactly why the tiny scale on which much of Ant-Man's action takes place — in a rapidly filling bathtub, say, or inside a briefcase — feels refreshing, even subversive.
Be it a drama or comedy, Michael Peña automatically adds one star to the quality of any movie he's in. His role in Ant-Man, as Lang's fast-talking, rosé-appreciating former cellmate Luis, is no exception.
Of course, there's Michael Douglas as scientist Hank Pym, but there's also Bobby Cannavale, Wood Harris (who would have thought Avon Barksdale would join the police force?), T.I., and a brief appearance by John Slattery as Howard Stark — not to mention the delightful Judy Greer, who between Ant-Man and Jurassic World has apparently cornered the market on playing moms with tragically little screen time in summer blockbusters.
Scott Lang's brush with the Avengers (we won't go into detail) is vastly more interesting because it comes after the movie establishes that he's well aware of the superheroes and their global impact. Of course: who wouldn't be? It's like a zombie movie that actually allows its characters to acknowledge the existence of zombies as a cultural concept they're familiar with — and perhaps even to use the Z word themselves.
Imagine Ocean's Eleven with more half-baked references to quantum mechanics.
Ant-Man does for ants what Ratatouille did for rats (and, okay, what A Bug's Life and Antz also did for ants). As a massive infantry force that Scott controls via electromagnetic impulses — go with it — they're both sympathetic and improbably cute.
Ant-Man's runtime comes in at just under two hours (that's, ahem, about 30 minutes shorter than both Avengers movies), but it feels even faster.
Ant-Man values the familial relationships between men and women as much as it does romantic ones. Lang's daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) — who, in the comics, develops shrinking powers herself — is adorable, funny, and manages to avoid the uncanny valley of precociousness that many child actors fall prey to.
It's Lang's love for Cassie and Pym's love for his own daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), that drive Ant-Man. There's sexual tension between Hope and Scott, but that never amounts to more than a subplot.
Of course, it would be great if the female characters got to do their fair share of microscopic ass-kicking, but we will say that a mid-credits sequence has us excited for Hope's future in the franchise.
In a summer of jungle-ready stilettos, it's somehow a treat to see Van Dyne model a sane wardrobe of sharp blazers and practical workout gear.
There's only one body the camera invites us to ogle, and that's a shirtless Lang's, seen from her perspective — Rudd, for his part, managed to obtain the obligatory six-pack studios demand as tribute before they'll hand over a superhero role.
In the movie's 1989-set opening, 70-year-old "Big Dick" Douglas looks a quarter-century younger thanks to computer magic. It's surprisingly well done, and it might put you in the mood to watch Wall Street.
Note: Fusion is a joint venture between Univision and ABC; ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Company, which also owns Marvel Entertainment.
Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.