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Categories: Movie Reviews

Peyton Reed’s “Ant-Man” sometimes misses the mark in plot and character, but more than makes up for it with some of Marvel’s most creative action sequences yet.

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Ant-Man understands the goofiness of its premise. Of all of Marvel’s superhero set-ups, Ant-Man might just be the most absurd. Sure, Thor’s godly strength and Iron Man’s impossibly complex technology may be outlandish mythology, but a man who can shrink to the size of an insect? That’s just silly. Ant-Man flaunts this, and ends up a Marvel film of low stakes and high entertainment value. Where it lacks the depth and edge of more “serious” superhero movies, it compensates with some of the most electric action sequences the genre has yet produced, and the odd laugh here and there.

At the center of the action is reliable comedy actor Paul Rudd, here playing Scott Lang, a small-time “burglar” (he rejects the term “robber” because he doesn’t confront the people he steals from) who has been released from jail after a short stint. Initially he rejects his friend Luis’ (Michael Peña) offers to return to thievery, instead taking a job at ice cream chain Baskin-Robbins. Unfortunately, he’s fired from the position (“Baskin-Robbins always finds out” might be the funniest piece of product placement I’ve ever encountered), and in order to pay child support for his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), who now lives with his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer), he agrees to Luis’ pestering and takes up the job of breaking into a retired millionaire’s safe.

Little does he know it, but Scott’s latest job is a total set-up by said retired millionaire, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a physicist whose work includes technology that can shrink objects and organisms. Scott, expected to find tons of money in the safe, instead finds the Ant-Man suit, which at the push of the button shrinks its wearer to ant size, and soon learns that Pym has been watching him ever since his arrest and needs him to join him for a heist job on his own Pym Industries, of which he is no longer in control of and is now planning on using the Ant-Man technology for sketchy military purposes under power-hungry CEO Darren Cross (Corey Stoll).

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Scott reluctantly agrees, and so begins a rather conventional sequence of training montages and motivational speeches as Scott prepares for the heist. Also joining the party is Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who is highly trained in her own right and has a top position inside her father’s former company. Her role is a pretty conventional one; she’s talented enough to work the Ant-Man suit herself, and already knows the mechanisms far better than Scott does, but because she’s the daughter she’s not expendable enough to do the job herself. We’ve heard it a zillion times before.

Luckily, the bulk of the film, in which we follow Scott’s adventures while wearing the Ant-Man suit, more than makes up for the formulaic nature of everything else. The 3D cinematography and CGI are crisp and fluent, distorting the world around the tiny Ant-Man to make us feel like we’re in an extended video-game cutscene. Scott encounters the sort of things you’d expect to see in every shrunk-hero film, from giant rats to tidal waves of bath water, but combined with a freshly goofy tone and refreshingly smooth pacing they feel like new obstacles that we’re experiencing for the first time.

The action of Ant-Man is so fun mainly because we can tell it’s tongue-in-cheek, and that director Peyton Reed and his team would rather flow with a sense of anarchistic glee throughout the action rather than stop the comedy in its tracks for a set-piece. That’s what I felt was Guardians of the Galaxy‘s only problem, though admittedly said film was funnier than Ant-Man in everything besides the set-pieces. Still, it’s refreshing to see a Marvel movie which is willing to ride a singular tone throughout the proceedings rather than work in stops and starts, and audiences of all shapes and sizes will have a great time watching Ant-Man infiltrate the insides of computer systems, fly atop telepathically-controlled ants (one of which is called, forgive me, Ant-ony), and run away from a Thomas the Tank Engine train set. Oh, and he has gadgets that can expand or shrink random objects around him, which leads to unlimited fun.

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The cast is also up to good standard, even if several major character arcs feel rushed and underdeveloped. As expected, Michael Douglas steals the show, obviously having fun with a role that’s both juicily commercial and deadly unserious. Paul Rudd is reliable as always, bringing the necessary doses of heart and humor that make him seem like the perfect fit for this kind of role. Evangeline Lilly makes the best out of a somewhat marginalized strong-female supporting character, and Judy Greer nails her cameo as Scott’s ex as she has in about 30 movies this summer. Michael Peña kills it as Scott’s goofy friend Luis, providing many of the film’s big laughs in the interim between the action sequences.

Ultimately, Ant-Man is an entertaining superhero movie, worth watching for the intensity and hilarity of its action scenes alone. It’s weird and wacky, nonchalantly meta and self-aware, and checks every box that a Marvel movie is these days required to check, so fans should be fully content. It lacks structural creativity in its narrative, often feeling a bit conventional in its overuse of montages and flashbacks, and some jokes might be too weird to appeal to all audiences (I thought a few were a bit cringeworthy), but as light, uncomplicated weekend entertainment, it’s very watchable. Here’s to hoping that the inevitable sequels interlays the goofy tone with a goofy plot structure as well.

Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson is a writer and filmmaker born in England, based in Michigan, USA, and currently living in Enniscrone, Ireland. He writes about all things entertainment with a speciality in film criticism. He has been working on films ever since middle school, when his shorts "Moving Stateside" and "The Random News" competed in the West Branch Children's Film Festival. Since then he's written and directed a number of his own films and worked in many different crew jobs. Follow him on Twitter @GambasUK and look at his daily film diary at letterboxd.com/gambasUK.

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Posted on Jul 20, 2015

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