In a climate which seems to produce another super-hero movie every two months, anyone jumping into that pool would naturally seek an advantage, a niche that would make it stand out from the rest. Most seem to think that the best avenue to such a place is by producing more and bigger special effects, usually in terms of natural disasters, wars or extraordinary science fiction elements, but that will never satisfy the moviegoer who is looking for an engaging movie experience. Even the teenage boy for whom these movies are made is beginning to get so jaded it becomes almost impossible to frighten, much less excite, him in the face of so much one-ups-man-ship.

Ant-Man goes in a different direction entirely. Nothing about it feels “big” (pardon the pun). For instance one of the most fearsome moments in the film is when a toy train runs over ant-man’s nemesis, Darren Cross played by Corey Stoll. The movie deftly switches back and forth between the POV of the main character and that of the audience so that in that particular scene, we see a huge train bearing down on the bad guy, creating a split second of terror for the audience, before the movie comically cuts to a high angle shot of the toy train, having hit the ant-sized person (who has full human-size strength), running off its tracks as Cross simply swipes it away.

Scenes like that are multiplied for the hero, Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd), especially since one of the tropes of the film has to do with Lang’s modesty about his abilities, even as a full-size human. The whole idea of the film is a running joke—a super-hero who is the size of an ant? Come on!—and that endears ant-man to the audience from the start. Who wouldn’t pull for a guy who is the size of an ant, been fired from his job, and whose lone foray into the criminal world gets him arrested, convicted, divorced and separated from his adoring daughter?

Everything about the film’s plot is predictable. My guess is that from reading the last sentence of the paragraph above, you, reader, already know what motivates Lang to take on the impossible possibility of becoming ant-man, entering a ridiculously high security technology building, and securing the safety of the world by destroying the only other ant-man suit which has fallen into the wrong hands. Enough said.

What isn’t predictable is Ant-Man’s regular comic forays into self-deprecation. Super hero movies usually do this at least a little, and comic reference to earlier super hero magazines and films has been around a long time. I’ll never forget Clark Kent in the Christopher Reeve Superman (1978) stopping, confused, in front of one of the small public phones in Metropolis, when he needed a phone booth in which to change his clothes. Ant-Man does this non-stop, but, brilliantly, never keeping the action from proceeding. The movie’s comedy never feels strained or boring, and that takes superb writing with proper pace and sensitivity. The funniest examples of this are in some of the “human relationship” scenes, when people are asking forgiveness or expressing love in a variety of ways, and the Rudd character almost breaks the fourth wall in the way he breaks up some of these scenes with his social ineptitude.

If you can’t tell by now, I really liked Ant-Man. The story is crisp and delightful, and the movie brims with great performances by Rudd, Stoll, the great Michael Douglas and even Evangeline Lilly (Lost, The Hobbit) who has never played such a nuanced role and pulls it off well. Go see it, and you can even take the kids to this one.

By the way, stay until the end of the credits. There are not one, but two previews of upcoming movies with ant-man in them.

Drew Trotter

August 11, 2015

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