‘Ant-Man’ Plays With Both Silly And Serious

‘Ant-Man’ Plays With Both Silly And Serious

Marvel’s ‘Ant-Man’ manages to make fun of the superhero genre while still fully embracing what makes the genre powerful.

“Ant-Man” is the movie Marvel needs right now. It’s smart and fresh, with more than a little subversive fun. Like its predecessor, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Ant-Man” plays with the Marvel universe without upending it. It manages to make fun of the superhero genre while still fully embracing the emotions that make the genre powerful.

Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, an ex-con with a small but active conscience whose driving force in life is to reform and be a good dad to his adorable daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson). He’s rescued from a return to prison by a mysterious scientist. Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has figured out two skills: First, he built a suit that enables the wearer to shrink and expand on cue. Secondly, he can control legions of ants.

Lang’s job is to wear the suit and steal the data for the shrinking technology from the evil clutches of Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). At times he is opposed by and other times aided by Dr. Pym’s lovely daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly).

More Heist than Heroism

The story overlaps with the Marvel universe we know and love. The Avengers and Stark Enterprises are figures in the background, but the scale is—excuse the pun—smaller. Ant-Man isn’t defending the world from invading semi-divine aliens or destroying most of New York City. At heart, the movie is a classic heist story.

Shrinking and controlling ants sounds like a silly superpower, and it is. Equal parts silliness and awesomeness, the whole thing enables director Peyton Reed to look at the Marvel universe from a different perspective.

A little change in perspective goes a long way. Classic battle tropes are reinvented on the small scale. Ant-Man takes his ant army not just through grass, pipes, and air vents rendered suddenly huge, he also fights through landscapes made of child’s rooms or corporate offices. Let’s just say toys and models come into play in delightful ways. The action sequences fully commit to these tiny spaces, and it turns out the inside of a briefcase can be as momentous battlefield as all of Chicago.

‘Ant-Man’ Contains Both Humor and Heart

The effect is both exciting and fun. Add in a trio of less-than-bright criminal friends turned heist team, and the movie delivers laugh after laugh. Michael Peña is particularly funny as a wine- and art-loving barrio thief with a crazy chain of informants.

Rudd is the perfect actor to headline this movie. His wry smile and mix of idealism and cynicism fit the character perfectly. Lilly, too, is well-cast. Her character has a darker storyline that makes the movie feel like a comic book.

Ultimately, though, the movie never forgets that, while the scale may be smaller than full-blown Avengers, the outcome has to matter to the audience. Parallel story lines about the thorny but powerful connection between fathers and daughters give the film its heart. Every father wants to be a hero to his daughter. Land and Pym both fight for something most of the Avengers can only imagine: the light in their daughter’s eye. New York’s skyscrapers may not be at risk, but there is plenty to root for.

It all adds up to a good time and a movie I recommend seeing.

Rated PG-13 for semi-intense action sequences, this film doesn’t have sexual content or language that would make you squirm if taking the kids. It does have a small child in peril in her own bedroom, which may be scary for youngsters.

Rebecca Cusey is a movie critic based in Washington DC. She is a member of the Washington Area Film Critics Society and a voting Tomatomer Critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Follow her on Twitter @Rebecca_Cusey.
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