After menacing the world with inter-dimensional aliens, robots bent on mankind’s extermination, and cities plummeting from the sky, maybe it’s time Marvel did something a little more grounded, even lighthearted. That appears to be the intent with Ant-Man, a relatively earthbound story compared to the rest of the studio’s canon. Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, a reformed thief freshly released from the pokey, hoping to go straight and reunite with his young daughter. Things don’t go as planned, and he winds up (sort of) tricked into breaking into the home of wealthy tech billionaire Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), where he comes into possession of Pym’s miraculous invention, a suit that can shrink him to the size of an ant. It’s a refreshingly goofy premise, even if the estranged-dad-makes-good story is the stuff of sub-television cliche that gets compounded with a second dose of daddy-issue hijinks between Pym and his daughter (Evangeline Lilly).
Reed’s virtual camera opens up the most minuscule of spaces, making a bathtub seem like the Grand Canyon and a computer chip look like a city.
Director Peyton Reed can’t do much to enliven a laborious backstory that would frankly be better streamlined by removing Rudd’s character altogether and making Pym and daughter Hope the main players. But we can’t have a 70-year-old man or, gasp, a woman, headline a superhero movie just yet. Ant-Man is actually the least interesting character in his own movie, saddled with endless scenes of him absorbing exposition in generic shot/reverse shot. This first half could maybe have used a dose of another director’s personality, but once the shrinking begins in earnest it touches off a set of action sequences more visually novel than anything Marvel has yet put forward. In addition to his micro-powers, Pym’s tech gives Lang control over an army of actual ants, which leads to an increasingly clever series of infiltrations and tricks. He flies around on (to him) a massive carpenter ant, or rides on a raft made of fire ants, or equips his tiny assistants with microscopic cameras. They’re even cute. And Reed’s virtual camera opens up the most minuscule of spaces, making a bathtub seem like the Grand Canyon and a computer chip look like a city. Things get smaller (or bigger, depending on how you look at it), and the story gets weirder, culminating in a superhero battle on a little girl’s train set followed by a surprisingly trippy journey into “the quantum level.” It takes a while, but Ant-Man eventually produces Marvel’s most genuinely inventive spectacle yet.