Writing about a movie called Ant-Man feels incredibly strange since the title sounds less like a new comic book superhero film and more like a 50s B-Horror flick people used as an excuse to make out at the local drive-in, but it is indeed the latest offering from those crazy people over at Marvel Studios.  Like many others, I was skeptical of this one even in light of how successful Guardians of the Galaxy was with its own whacky concepts, and it was only the very end of this trailer that made me think Marvel might just pull this off:

And believe it or not, pull it off they did. Unlike those B-movies that were comical for all the wrong reasons, Ant-Man is comical for all the right ones.  It has wit, charm, and just the right amount of camp to make for yet another fun time at the cinema courtesy of the one studio that still thinks it’s ok to embrace the goofier aspects of its comic book origins and take risks on characters that seem as silly as Ant-Man.

Well, technically it’s two ant-men in the movie.  The first one is Dr. Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas, who invented the means to shrink/grow things at will and command the ants that become his army when he’s tiny.  Like many scientists, he doesn’t trust anyone else with his tech, so after a few decades of working with SHIELD, he parts ways with them and goes into hiding to ensure it never falls into the wrong hands.  The stories about the Ant-Man fade into legend, and all seems well.

Then the man Pym mentored (Corey Stoll) manages to recreate his work, and Pym has to find someone to break in and steal the stuff.  Enter the guy who will become the new Ant-Man, Scott Lang. Lang, played by Paul Rudd, is your standard thief-with-a-heart-of-gold character out to reform so he can be there for his daughter. That comes with the associated tropes like an ex-wife with a new fiancé who’s kind of a jerk, the inability to stay straight on the outside, and so forth.  Meanwhile Pym’s estranged daughter (Evangeline Lilly) has joined up to stop the baddie, and she helps to train Lang even though she doesn’t think much of him.

This is another superb casting job on the part of Marvel. All of these actors have great chemistry with each other and solid comedic timing for the deadpan jokes peppered throughout the film. Even Michael Peña, who acts as Lang’s kind of goofy sidekick, manages hit things just right to keep his character from being annoying.

The other hero in the film is the soundtrack. Christophe Beck kicks things off with a classic Latin funk riff and then settles into a swanky jazz orchestra feel for the score that is reminiscent of a 70s-era spy film, which works incredibly well because the overall plot of Ant-Man is sort of an Ocean’s 11/Mission: Impossible-style heist to stop a guy who wouldn’t be totally out of place as a Bond villain.

That makes Ant-Man feel very unique among the other Marvel films since it never succumbs to the temptation to get too big, which is one of the places the last few solo films have stumbled a bit.  It’s still thoroughly anchored in the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, right down to your requisite Stan Lee cameo, but it doesn’t take its world-saving to the global scale.  In fact one of the most delightful aspects of the film is how well it uses the shrinking/enlarging facet of Ant-Man’s powers to play with action clichés like the “giant final battle filled with destruction” thing.  It really is hilarious to be at one level where it looks like two supermen are having an epic battle, only to zoom out and see effectively two insects stumbling harmlessly through a toy train set.

It tends to do the same thing to the standard origin story tropes, cheekily tweaking them here and there by changing the perspective slightly or throwing in a joke to mix up what would normally supposed to be a lingering poignant moment.

Sadly Ant-Man still suffers from one of the biggest recurring issues in the Marvel films:  a weak villain.  It’s not Corey Stoll’s fault because he conveys the appropriate level of mad menace, but all of the stuff that drives his character happens before the movie and ultimately he’s just there to put on the anti-Ant-Man suit for the final fight.

Peyton Reed‘s direction is also kind of half and half.  Sometimes the action scenes are beautiful Honey, I Shrunk the Kids affairs, and other times not so much.  The film can’t quite decide on a pace either, rushing through parts of the origin and then slamming to a halt for more somber scenes. This was originally Edgar Wright‘s pet project before he left over creative differences with Marvel, and that may be why it occasionally gets schizophrenic.

Fortunately those issues are relatively minor blemishes on an otherwise enjoyable superhero romp. So on Ed Morrissey’s Hot Air scale, Ant-Man gets a straight up 5:

  • 5 – Full price ticket
  • 4 – Matinee only
  • 3 – Wait for Blu-Ray/DVD/PPV rental or purchase
  • 2 – Watch it when it hits Netflix/cable
  • 1 – Avoid at all costs

It’s Marvel doing what Marvel does best: fun, irreverent, superhero goodness.  If you dig that kind of thing, then you should have a great time with Ant-Man.

There are also two credits scenes, one mid and one at the very end. Unlike some of the last few stingers, these are actually worth the wait so stick around until the end.

If you’d like to hear more from me about Ant-Man and movies in general, tune in to Their Finest Hour on Vigilant Liberty Radio at 10 pm ET on Monday (June 20th) where I’ll be guest hosting for Allan Bourdius.  We’ll have the live chat open just like The Ed Morrissey Show for you to throw out your questions and comments. You can also follow me on Twitter @crankytrex or check out my other writing at buzzpo.com.

Ant-Man is Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.