It’s the fabulously whimsical climax that ultimately proves Ant-Man’s mettle.
The antics (sorry, couldn’t resist) begin in 1989. There’s no need to cry foul over Hollywood ageism; in this case, it’s CGI trickery like the transformation of 68-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger into his 1984 bad-butt self in Terminator Genisys. Here, Hayley Atwell makes an appearance as Peggy Carter, a Marvel character dating back to Captain America’s adventures in the 1940s. Atwell’s 33 years old in real life, but here, suitably, she looks like a woman in her 60s. Michael Douglas, a 71-year-old seasoned Hollywood veteran, looks like the Michael Douglas of yore, the strapping young man of Romancing the Stone, as he appears to be a 40-something Dr. Hank Pym.
Peggy and Hank are working on a little project that’ll, theoretically, revolutionize warfare. In Jurassic World last month, there was a goofy subplot involving the militarization of dinosaurs. Here, there’s a plot line involving the militarization of ants — or, more precisely, the militarization of men shrunk down to the size of ants.
Maybe it’s a technology the world isn’t quite ready for, maybe there are some side effects and kinks that need to be ironed out. In any event, that back story sets the stage for modern times.
Ants Are Marching
Ant-Man, born into the comics world back in 1962 as the Cold War entered a deep freeze with the recent construction of the Berlin Wall, has quite easily adapted to modern times. There’s no need to be antsy about what might’ve been had Edgar Wright (one of the masterminds behind the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) fulfilled their vision. They get co-writing credits, but at one point Cornish was the intended director before classic “creative differences” found the parties separating. Now that the anticipation is over, the end result as directed by Peyton Reed (Bring It On and Down with Love) is a good ol’ hoot.
Ant-Man’s alter ego is Scott Lang, a smart guy with a degree in engineering who’s made some bad choices in life; you could say he’s his own antagonist. At the top of that list is an episode of cyber espionage, a modern spin on Robin Hood that found Scott hacking into a high profile company’s financial systems and refunding millions of dollars to bilked customers.
Scott, the antithesis of the typical Big House resident, made some special friends while serving time in San Quentin for that feat of burglary (robbery, he’ll point out, is a violent crime; burgling is not).
At its core, Ant-Man is a story about redemption. Dr. Pym makes that part clear when he offers Scott a chance to earn his way back to respectability and make his way back into his adoring daughter’s life. And, as such, Ant-Man turns out to be more enjoyable than the Avengers movies because there’s more humanity in the story. Redemption is a familiar theme in the comics world. Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker, Tony Stark and so many others seek it out as their never-ending life’s mission and it’s what makes Scott a relatable character.
The ever-expanding - and increasingly ever more rapidly so - world of comic book movies and similar genres has seen plenty of castings against type. It started with Michael Keaton as Batman in 1989 and there are other examples of “is that such a good idea?” casting. Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man, Heath Ledger as the Joker, Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern, Seth Rogen as Green Hornet. Uh. Okay. That last one was a bad idea all around.
Anyway, now it’s Paul Rudd’s turn to step it up, although he doesn’t stray all that far from his comfort zone. The actor’s best known for comedic performances in movies like Anchorman and I Love You, Man. In Ant-Man, the situation is ripe for generous servings of humor. To that end Rudd himself, along with frequent Will Ferrell collaborator Alan McKay, join Wright and Cornish with screenwriting credits.
The recent spate of comic book movies has focused on gigantic feats of Hollywood engineering with a dash of humor amid the action and dark undertones. Here, this assembly, creative differences notwithstanding, ups the ante on the humor for a change of pace and, for the most part, it works well. It’s actually rather refreshing to more fully explore the humorous angles of the ridiculous situations and characters that originated in four-color print.
All of the action, revolving around — no particular surprise — a competing bug suit and a corporate mad man, leads up to a well-done finale that generates cheers and a healthy dose of laughs. It’s kind of like Toy Story run amuck and Thomas the Train makes a very special cameo appearance as the scenes bounce between the hyper reality of the ant view and the more mundane reality of the events as viewed from human scale.
Marvel’s mastering cross-franchise storytelling; it’s a finely-tuned antenna that allows Ant-Man to make references to SHIELD, HYDRA and the antecedent events of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Scott Lang will also appear in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War and, likely, Avengers: Infinity War.
As an end title card states, “Ant-Man Will Return,” so Ant-Fans can put away the antacids and relax.