Ever since Marvel teamed with Disney to create the Marvel Cinematic Universe, attending movies has been more like reading a serialized soap opera in Spandex that film-going. We’ve had three Iron Mans, a pair each of Avengers, Thor and Captain America, a few out outliers (Hulk, Guardians of the Galaxy) and many more in the pipeline. And that doesn’t even include the tangled web of Spider-Man reboots, which makes it seem like we’re all reliving Groundhog Day. Eventually, it’s a cacophony of sound effects and needless 3D extravaganzas. Some are better than others (Cappie, so far, gets my vote as the best of the lot), but they all have a sameness to them after a while.
Which is why Ant-Man stands apart. Like the first Iron Man, it has a snarky star (Paul Rudd, a sort of less cynical version of Robert Downey Jr.) and a comedic sensibility that lightens up even some of the nastier bits (when the mad scientist unsuccessfully experiments on minimizing a cute lamb, what’s left is a teaspoon of goo, meaning this is the first lamb to become its own side of mint jelly). It’s a hip caper film, gussied up in a comic book adventure. (Marvel considers Ant-Man the final film in its “Phase One” of the movie series of the three proposed phases. Phase Two starts next spring with Captain America: Civil War.)
And because Ant-Man comes so late to the game of MCU, it doesn’t have to spend a lot of time on backstory: We know who some of these characters are already, which means its both an “origins movie” and a “mission movie” — we don’t get bogged down in either. (A mid-movie comic duel between Ant-Man and Falcon gives a gimmicky but not unwelcome nod to the MCU, and Stan Lee eventually makes his requisite cameo … about 30 seconds before it’s over.)
Surprisingly, the minimization set-pieces — with Ant-Man the size of an insect, where water from a tap looks like a tsunami — don’t seem as cheesy as they have ever since the days of The Incredible Shrinking Man. It’s all in fun.
Especially with Rudd and much of the supporting cast, including an endearing Michael Douglas as the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym. But the kickiest performance comes from Michael Pena as Rudd’s unexpectedly sophisticated criminal running buddy — he shines with so much good will and energy, you almost forget what a sourpuss Evangeline Lilly is as the budding love interest. Who needs lame romance when you have ginormous Thomas the Tank Engines and a villain with a kick-ass stinger? This summer actioner really has legs … like, six of ‘em.
Now playing in wide release.