From “Spider-man” through “Iron Man” and the Avengers series, Marvel Studios has created its own brand of action/adventure movies, bringing audiences a proprietary mix of world-on-the-brink plots, stunning visuals, likable heroes and hate-able villains with complex relationships between them, humor, and – perhaps most signature of all – seamless tie-ins to other parts of the Marvel franchise.
Marvel’s latest release, “Ant-Man,” is no exception. Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, a white-collar criminal freshly released from San Quentin desperately trying to reconnect with his daughter (a first for a Marvel movie, hero motivation-wise, as director Peyton Reed emphasized at a pre-launch press conference) who lives with his ex and her pushy cop boyfriend. Lang tries to stay out of the burglary (not stealing) business – even taking a job at Baskin-Robbins – but ultimately he falls prey to the temptations of follow-on “jobs” offered by his former cellmates (one of whom is a guy named Luis played by the always-hilarious Michael Pena) who are now his roommates.
Meanwhile industrial technologist Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas, is trying to keep his former protégé, Darren Cross, played by Corey Stoll of “House of Cards” doomed drug addict congressman fame, from selling his shrinking technology to the highest bidder to destroy the world. Pym shelved the technology after losing his wife to it, a move Stoll views as a slight to his career potential. Stoll has been developing his own suit in parallel but – as the grizzly molecular deconstruction of a couple of baby lambs shows – he hasn’t quite mastered the ability to shrink life forms.
But he’s close, and Pym knows this. Pym needs a guinea pig to wear his suit, somebody with nothing to lose and everything to gain by carrying out a mission to save the world, and he finds Lang by synthesizing a can’t-miss burglary. Lang breaks into Pym’s house, cracks the ancient safe in his basement where he finds – not money – the Ant-Man suit, which, of course, he puts on.
Lang has a wild first ride in the suit, and he’s freaked out by the technology so much that he tries to put it back. But as he does, he’s arrested and thrown in jail – by his ex’s boyfriend, no less. Pym shows up as his “lawyer” and challenges him to fix his life by being Ant-Man.
Ant-Man training is intense, even tougher than Ranger School or BUDS because it involves learning to shrink at the right time, coordinating ops with a variety of ant species that are really big once you’re shrunk, and getting your ass kicked by a beautiful woman who happens to be Pym’s daughter.
The first training mission unintentionally morphs into a raid on the Avengers’ headquarters – a neat connection to another part of the franchise – where Ant-Man tangles with Hawkman, who apparently was the Avengers’ duty officer that day. After a scrap, Ant-Man emerges with a piece of key tech the team needs to move forward.
Lang’s criminal buds are read-in for the final mission – an all-out assault on Cross’ complex – and at that point the Marvel formula is in full gear. Over-the-top action is punctuated by LOL-level humor – one scene involving Thomas the Tank Engine is especially side-splitting – and other tongue-in-cheek asides that show the brand knows exactly how not to take itself too seriously while dealing out the serious pyro-laced slugfests.
In typical Marvel fashion, the movie ends with a teaser – this one involving Hawkman, a nice tie-in to his previous cameo – that hints at a sequel.
“Ant-Man” is a great addition to the Marvel movie collection, at once unorthodox and in keeping with the studio’s formula. The choice of Rudd in the lead role is inspired and ultimately differentiates the movie from others in the genre, and Douglas is in top form. (At a Marvel junket in Burbank a few weeks before the release both actors quipped that they’d gone up a few notches on the “cool” scale with their kids as a result of taking these roles.) The supporting characters are pitch perfect.
From a military point of view, the ability to control the sub-atomic and gamma realm is certainly something DARPA has toyed with, but until they master it, let’s enjoy “Ant-Man” – the perfect summer flick, a blockbuster that both thrills and entertains.