Ant-Man: Big Entertainment From a Tiny Hero

I didn’t know what to expect from Ant-Man, given its checkered production history and the fact that the screenplay is credited to two unlikely sources: star Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell’s frequent collaborator Adam McKay. What I got was a thoroughly entertaining, solidly constructed action-fantasy yarn that ranks with the best movies from the Marvel universe. Go figure!

I don’t know how this resembles the project that original director Edgar Wright and his writing partner Joe Cornish were working on—they still share screenplay credit, but that’s now moot. We have a really good movie to celebrate and enjoy, with truly startling visual effects. A lot of filmmakers throw around the word “immersive experience” but this one delivers the goods. We see and feel what Ant-Man is going through at every turn of the story, and with today’s cutting-edge technology it’s a quantum leap ahead ofThe Incredible Shrinking Man or Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, good as they were.

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Photo by Zade Rosenthal – © Marvel 2014

The story has many interlocking pieces—perhaps a few too many—but they all fit neatly in place. Rudd plays Scott Lang, a bright guy who’s just finished serving a prison term for a Robin Hood-like burglary of a corporation that was cheating its customers. He wants to go straight for the sake of his little daughter, who lives with her mom, but it isn’t easy for an ex-con to find a job. Eventually he succumbs to a tip from his pal (a very funny, motor-mouthed Michael Peña) about an inside-job robbery just waiting to unfold. It turns out that what seemed too good to be true was just that: a set-up by the long-simmering mastermind Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas).
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Photo by Zade Rosenthal – © Marvel 2014

Pym, you see, is the genius who figured out a way to manipulate atoms and shrink human matter, using what he called an Ant-Man suit. But he’s kept his discovery under wraps for years because he feared what could happen if it fell into the wrong hands. And now it has: his former protégé (Corey Stoll) has eased him out of his own corporation and trusts no one, except perhaps Pym’s savvy daughter (Evangeline Lilly), who resents her father for a variety of reasons. Pym needs an agile younger man to take his place in the suit and become Ant-Man.

Now all the ingredients are in place: an underdog hero, a mentor with ambiguous motivations, a bad guy who has no conscience, a cute kid who deserves to have a relationship with her errant dad, and a series of formidable physical hurdles that have to be cleared for the good guys’ schemes to pan out. There’s even comedy relief, including a couple of whopping sight gags near the end that made me laugh out loud.

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Photo by Zade Rosenthal – © Marvel 2014

I can’t overstate how impressive the visual effects are, as supervised by Jake Morrison. We’re bombarded with astonishing sights we’ve never seen before, again and again, right through the final frames of the movie. And crucially, all of these feats of movie magic are in service of the story: that is their only purpose.

Although he’s never tackled anything in this genre, or on this scale before, director Peyton Reed deserves tremendous credit for orchestrating all the components of this complex enterprise. Ant-Man is a smart, original, consistently surprising piece of entertainment. Bravo!

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024