With the Marvel movies of the past few years, maybe the more obscure the source comics—obscure to me, at least—the more interesting the film. Guardians of the Galaxy turned out to be one of the more amusing big-budget flicks from last year, and this summer’s Ant-Man is possibly even a bit more fun.
Ant-Man, whose major superpower is the ability to shrink himself to ant size, originated in 1962 as the star of a recurring feature in Marvel’s Tales to Astonish and later, as an original member of The Avengers. Initially the alter-ego of the haunted genius Hank Pym—and paired with the Wasp, his similarly diminutive lady love and fellow Avenger—the micro-superhero has gone through several changes of secret identity over the decades, but obviously never attained the mythic stature of Spider-Man or The Hulk or Iron Man.
The film takes up the story with the aging Pym (Michael Douglas) turning over the Ant-Man suit and mantle to high-tech burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), in hopes that Scott will help him foil the schemes of Pym’s mad protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Cross has a suit of his own that turns him into the super-villian Yellowjacket, who can also, as Steve Martin would say, get small. Pym’s enlistment of Scott is over the objections of his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who would prefer to be the agent against Yellowjacket.
In outline, it’s standard superhero stuff, but the film was made, thankfully, by a bunch of goofballs. The director is Peyton Reed, who made the terrific 2000 cheerleader comedy Bring It On, the script was by Joe Cornish of the terrific Attack the Block and Edgar Wright of the terrific Shaun of the Dead, with star Rudd and Adam McKay also contributing to the writing. The dialogue keeps mischievously deflating the corny tropes of the genre, and Reed maintains a light-footed pace and serves up one imaginative gag after another, deftly shifting from Ant-Man’s epic perspective on his surroundings to a normal-sized perception of their dinkiness and back, to often hilarious effect.
Ant-Man also has the power to command actual ants of various species—winged carpenter ants he can ride, bullet ants to attack his enemies and the like. After a childhood spent repeatedly watching Them! I’ve always been a little phobic about ants, but Ant-Man succeeds in making them endearing (Parents and sensitive viewers should be warned [spoilers!]: one of Ant-Man’s loyal ant pals pays the ultimate price, and also that an adorable lamb gets disintegrated in the course of the story).
These sweet ants gave the movie a sour postscript for me—as I left the screening, I called home to ask my wife if she needed anything, and she told me, I’m not kidding, to stop at the supermarket and pick up some ant traps; our kitchen had been invaded. I did it, but I didn’t like doing it.
Ant-Man is rated PG-13 and plays at Tempe Marketplace, Arizona Mills, Chandler Fashion 20, and other multiplexes Valleywide.