‘Ant-Man’ (2015) review: Scaled-down heroism

‘Ant-Man’ has plenty of charm, even if it feels a bit unnecessary

“Ant-Man” boils down to two things. The first: Paul Rudd, who plays the titular role, is nothing short of fantastic in his turn as the latest Marvel hero to grace the big screen. The second: Despite a charming lead and a plot that thankfully keeps it small, there just doesn’t seem to be much reason for this addition to the greater Marvel universe.

Which, you may say, isn’t necessary for the movie to be enjoyable, and that’s true. But this isn’t just another movie: it’s the latest entry into a massive cinematic universe that’s supposed to be about saving the world from otherworldly threats. “Ant-Man” is nothing like that; instead, it’s the story of a man who makes lots of stupid mistakes but is basically a good guy who saves the day in the end.

But what saves the film from simply being forgettable is a change in focus that highlights family and close personal connections to a regular guy who then becomes a hero rather than the internal strife of some powerful superhero who then finds out that everyone needs a friend. The basic formula worked for a lot of Marvel movies, but it was starting to get a bit stale.

“Ant-Man,” directed by Peyton Reed from a script by Adam McKay and Rudd, focuses on Scott Lang (Rudd), who we see getting released from his stint in prison at the start of the movie. Seemingly reformed from his murky criminal past (the film seems to split him between being some type of good-guy hacker and a burglar), Lang wants to do right by his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). But it’s hard to find work as an ex-con (even one that has a master’s in electrical engineering), and it doesn’t help that Lang hasn’t paid any child support, which leads Cassie’s mother and her fiancé (Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale, respectively) to tell Lang to get lost.

Well, Lang is having none of that, and so he’s voluntarily roped back into the criminal world with his hilarious yet too-stereotypical crew (Michael Peña, David Dastmalchian and T.I.). The goal is simple: Just rob an old man’s safe. Nothing to it, right?

What follows next is basically blackmail as Lang is more or less coerced into donning the Ant-Man suit, which was created by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). The brilliant scientist discovered how to adjust the space between atoms, allowing for humans to shrink down to the size of an ant while enjoying a massive boost in strength. But Pym doesn’t much care for how his former colleagues are using his data (hint: not in a good way), so he enlists Lang to steal and to sabotage, much to the chagrin to Pym’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who feels Lang is grossly unqualified. (She’s not necessarily wrong, either.)

The rest of the film centers around a fantastically small-scale problem of how to alleviate the oh-so-clever Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), once Pym’s protégé, from the destructive technology in his possession. It’s clear that “Ant-Man” isn’t just another Marvel movie that features someone trying to save the universe. This film just keeps it to one city and one man’s problems (which, admittedly, have the potential to exploded on the world stage).

But what really separates “Ant-Man” is its humor, which, to be honest, is kind of necessary for this kind of film. You see, “Ant-Man” wouldn’t have been nearly as entertaining if it didn’t have this down-to-earth type of humor, this understanding that the film couldn’t take itself too seriously. So instead, the director goes the complete opposite direction, ample in the jokes that poke at both the broader Marvel universe and at the film itself for its decidedly goofy premise.

Graphics-wise, “Ant-Man” becomes all the more interesting once Lang starts to shrink and the world blows out of proportion. Lang’s army of ants, which a touch unsettling at first, because fascinating to watch for their hive-mind mentality and their movement. (They basically serve as transport or utility for Lang in his quest.) The animation is solid, clearly a mark of Marvel’s competence. And that goes for the action, as well. The fight sequences are clever in their use of scale, bouncing between Lang in both his shrunken and normal sizes. The change in perspective, especially as other, normal-sized humans watch Lang do his thing, is well-executed and add a little something different to a genre that generally goes bigger.

In the end, “Ant-Man” is an enjoyable time, though you won’t walk away thinking Scott Lang and his ant-sized alter-ego is really necessary in the grand scheme of things. At no time does it ever feel that Ant-Man is going to be more than just a minor character who happen to get some screen time and actually did his best with it. For a standalone film, that wouldn’t be a problem; for a film that’s part of a much larger series, it feels shoehorned in, which is a shame, but the scaled-down plot and Rudd’s performance show that not everything has to be about saving the world. In fact, it would do Marvel some good to know that smaller is sometimes better.

Three “What do you mean by ‘subatomic’?” stars out of five.

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