Saving the world is important business for super heroes and it’s been big business for Marvel Studios. After hauling in $1.3 billion with the mammoth AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, Marvel has boldly selected its smallest hero and smallest story for a follow-up act. The payoff, however, is not so diminutive, as ANT-MAN succeeds not only as a heist movie, but also Marvel’s first true family film.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has always been accessible to families, but ANT-MAN takes it a step further by rooting it entire plot in people trying to repair frayed familial relationships. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is an ex-con trying to reconnect with his young daughter after a three-year prison stint. His crime was Robin Hood-esque, so we’re clear to cheer him on, but there was an element of hubris that shows his conviction was warranted.
Lang is the best example to date of the kind of hero that put Marvel Comics on the map in the 1960s. He’s flawed, obviously, but he also has to deal with practical, real-life issues, like money, that the rich Tony Stark, royal Thor, and Avengers-sponsored Captain America never have to contemplate. He can’t hold down a job (background checks are a major hassle), which means he can’t pay rent or even child support.
It’s not a total bummer. There are laughs along the way, especially when Scott gets his first job out of prison, but his desperation to be present in his daughter’s life is sincere and universally relatable. The scenes between Scott and his ridiculously adorable daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston) are wonderful to watch and hold a distorted mirror up to the film’s other complicated father/daughter dynamic.
Pym’s super hero days are long behind him and they came at great personal expense. A falling out with his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), eventually cost him control of his own company, Pym Technologies, and a new threat forces Hank to find a new Ant-Man. Hank chooses Scott as his stand-in. What Hank sees in Scott is a man who still has a chance at redemption. It’s too late for Hank, but he tells Scott the latter still has a chance to earn the look in his daughter’s eye. Hank knows how important it is to earn a daughter’s affection because one day, it won’t be automatic and can be lost.
This is not to make the point that daughters need their fathers, but the reverse. Hope has flourished without Hank. She’s more of a super hero than Scott or even Hank. She’s the one who begrudgingly trains Scott to be Ant-Man when helping Hank is the lesser of two evils. Lilly does an outstanding job in playing a character that doesn’t need to be saved by anyone else and has an exciting future ahead of her.
Family is also an important factor in the development of the film’s villain, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). His Yellowjacket suit is very cool and he’s got a number of nefarious bidders to whom he’d love to sell it, but he doesn’t exist to twirl a mustache. His ruthlessness is driven by what he perceives as abandonment from his former mentor and surrogate father, Hank. Cross isn’t going to challenge Loki or Thanos atop the MCU mountain of villainy, but the personal angle given to the character, along with Stoll’s performance, allow him to properly serve the purposes of this story.
All this family focus would make it easy to forget this is still a heist film with tons of humor were it not for the effective balance struck by director Peyton Reed. Heist movies often employ charismatic crews and Scott Lang certainly has one. Michael Peña steals every scene he’s in as Luis, the team’s spiritual leader and nurturing chef. Every joke he says lands with side-splitting impact. David Dastmalchian and T.I. also get their own strong laughs in as Kurt and Dave, respectively. Together, these three, unofficially known as the Antourage, form an outstanding ensemble that entertains throughout.
The cast and director all deliver, but it’s important to also recognize the contribution of Edgar Wright. Originally scheduled to direct the film before parting ways with Marvel over creative differences, Wright’s voice can still be heard in this script. Both he and Joe Cornish are credited for the story and are joined by Adam McKay and Paul Rudd for screenplay credits. Together, though each pairing worked independent of the other, they are a killer combination of comedic voices that draw laughs from organic and unexpected places. Marvel movies are known, in part, for their humor and ANT-MAN can be placed comfortably alongside IRON MAN and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY as the studio’s funniest.
ANT-MAN is a unique Marvel experience. All of Marvel’s films are different, obviously, but ANT-MAN only feels like its MCU and greater super hero genre counterparts in very vague ways. It is a deeply personal story reminiscent of 2008’s IRON MAN, but it goes even deeper by focusing on characters whose primary concerns are much closer to our own. It makes the highs higher, the lows lower, and the laughs louder all with healthy doses of weirdness tossed in for good measure. Marvel, a studio that began as an underdog, is putting forth its quintessential story about the little guy and the result is a resounding success. ANT-MAN is a winner.
Go see ANT-MAN and take the whole family with you on July 17.