If Marvel was ever poised to finally screw up, it was going to be with “Ant-Man.” The premise is pretty goofy with a character dug from the comic book archives who has the power to shrink to a nearly imperceptible size and communicate with ants. It’s tough to imagine a lot of scenarios where that skill set would be vital to saving the world.
To make matters worse, “Ant-Man” toiled in development hell after geek-auteur Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”), who spent years in writing and pre-production of the film, left because of “creative differences” with the honchos at Marvel Studios. Uh-oh.
And then the guy they bring in to replace him (Peyton Reed) is a director whose up-and-down career is best known for the cheerleader flick “Bring It On.” Double uh-oh.
One upside is Marvel (with an assist from their bank account that rivals the GDP of Portugal) was able to keep Wright’s formidable cast together, led by the ever-likable Paul Rudd, who plays our hero Scott Lang, an ex-con, Robin-Hood-style burglar who reluctantly becomes the Ant-Man.
So, with the final result of all this turmoil finally hitting the big screen, all I can say is Marvel is bulletproof. “Ant-Man” is a blast. It is funny, clever and its view of the world in miniature is often spectacular.
Superhero fatigue will come (have we seen the first cracks in the armor this summer with “Avengers 2” being bested at the box office by a pack of wild dinosaurs?). Marvel is probably more aware of this than we know, so instead of just giving us more guys in costumes punching each other and knocking over buildings, they have been cunningly sliding their heroes into other film genres.
The “Captain America” movies are political thrillers, “Guardians of the Galaxy” is a space opera and “Ant-Man” is, at its core, a heist movie.
Scott is fresh out of jail and trying to walk the straight and narrow when he is recruited by the creator of the Ant-Man suit, Dr. Hank Pym (the eternal Michael Douglas). In addition to being a Cold War-era hero, Pym is also a titan of industry. At least he used to be until he was forced out of his own company by his protégé Darren Cross (a confidently menacing Corey Stoll).
Following in Pym’s footsteps, Cross has developed his own shrinking technology and plans to sell an army of super-small, super-strong shrinking suits to the highest bidder.
Before this can happen, Pym, with some help from his estranged daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lily), trains Scott to become the Ant-Man to sneak into his lab, steal Cross’s suit and destroy all of his research.
The coolest part of this movie is when Scott is Ant-Man and our everyday world becomes increasingly wondrous (and dangerous) when seen through the eyes of a bug. In what other movie could a child’s playroom become the setting for an epic, climactic battle? “Ant-Man” is like “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” on steroids.
Another cool, but subtle, effect that has become increasingly flawless is when a much-younger Michael Douglas makes an appearance during a flashback after a stop at the digitally-enhanced fountain of youth.
It’s like being in a time warp seeing Douglas stroll on screen like he just walked off the set of “Romancing the Stone.”
In the end, “Ant-Man” is just another case of Marvel successfully diversifying their portfolio; going in a new direction while staying decidedly on brand. As movies become bigger and bigger business, these are starting to look less like reviews and more like corporate earnings reports. Invest your time with “Ant-Man” and you will be more than happy with the returns.
“Ant-Man” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some language.