Marvel’s “Ant-Man” feels like a direct response to the now-monolithic production company’s doubters. In the face of internet whiners that vocally condemn Marvel’s “two or three huge films a year” release schedule in fear of franchise burnout, “Ant-Man” proves that Marvel is still willing to take risks, experiment with genre and intelligently put trust in inexperienced directors.
“Ant-Man” is the smallest-scale Marvel film both in the sense of physical spacing and narrative breadth. Its protagonist is given the ability to shrink down to tiny size, and thus, much of the film’s action takes place in a much tinier arena than is usual for big-budget superhero films. This lends each action set-piece a certain humorous rhythm and a perspective separate from the usual city-leveling cataclysmic battles that seem to end many of Ant-Man’s contemporaries. This movie has the cojones to set its climactic battle scene aboard a Thomas the Tank Engine play set. It’s as hilarious as it sounds.
The greatest thing about “Ant-Man,” though, is that its narrative is a smaller, more contained story that takes its influences more from early ’00s heist movie hits like “Ocean’s Eleven” and “The Italian Job” than from its superhero film brethren. This isn’t another “Iron Man”/”Captain America”/”Thor” story where the world is going to end if the hero fails. This is a fun, often goofy isolated story about a heist. That’s it — no intergalactic warlord. It’s simple, unchallenging action cinema.
Last year, Chris Pratt put in a career-making performance in “Guardians of the Galaxy” as Starlord, combining comedic chops with Spielbergian heroism and likeability. Paul Rudd (“Anchorman 2”), taking excellent notes, is superb as white-collar thief Scott Lang, exuding likeability and wry humor that makes him one of Marvel’s most charming leading men.
“Ant-Man” features a more experimental style of filmmaking than its many predecessors. It’s never reaches the levels of extraordinary creative formalism that Edgar Wright’s “Scott-Pilgrim vs. The World” (likely due to Wright’s levels of involvement in the project being so shaky) but it still results in the most original visual look of any of the Marvel films since “Iron Man.”
Remember how terrible the comic relief characters were in “Thor” and “Iron Man 3?” The obnoxious hipster chick and the smart-alecky little kid? In some sort of act of God, “Ant-Man” features comic relief that’s not only tolerable, but adds quite a bit of flavor to the film. Michael Pena (“End of Watch”), rapper T.I. and David Dastmalchian (“The Dark Knight”) play by far the best comic relief characters in any Marvel movie. Every line of dialogue they frantically spew is memorable and charming, and the sequences involving Pena’s rapid-fire storytelling are among the highlights of the film.
“Ant-Man” went through a good amount of development hell prior to release, but it is not at all apparent in the final product. With “Ant-Man,” the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to prove that it has a powerful creative voice and an extraordinary sense of fun.