Posted by Joel Copling on July 16, 2015

"Ant-Man" contains all the usual ingredients of the superhero movie (Indeed, it also contains many of the same things that have made the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe so creatively tired lately), but it's in the way the screenplay rearranges and, in a roundabout way, mocks them that the movie finds its pretty considerable success. This is the best introduction to a hero we've seen yet in this universe (and, if you're into ranking things, the second-best movie overall that Disney and Marvel have overseen these past seven years). Mark it down to a mixture of the kind of wacky fun that most of these movies have been missing and a serious approach to the mythology that, finally, is starting to feel lived-in.

And it comes as something of a surprise, given the backstage drama of a certain director's dropped involvement from the production (I won't get into it here, of course, as it's mostly ineffectual, but at least the seams are less apparent this time), but Peyton Reed, whose previous credits of light, sarcastic comedies proves useful here, was the right man to take over the reins. Most surprising in this concoction are the flourishes of surrealism in unexpected places (This includes one of the few uses of 3-D that actually fits the imagery by way of a visual kaleidoscope that comes remarkably close to the tubular kind children of a certain generation once loved) and a lack of contentment with framing action in a way that remotely resembles "visually dull."

But yes, all the usual plot elements are here. We have the Everyman with a hero complex and a unique past: Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, who also co-wrote said screenplay with Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, and Adam McKay) was the well-meaning dad to daughter Cassie (the impossibly cute Abby Ryder Fortson) before wife Maggie (Judy Greer, one of our brightest comic actresses again semi-wasted here in a wife role) remarried to policeman Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) and Scott himself became a career criminal, ending up in the slammer for three years. The film begins as he is finally released--only to procure and then lose a job with a popular ice-cream chain.

We have the Hero's Destiny, which is here to be mostly an expendable soldier/guinea pig for Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a billionaire scientist who, in 1989, was attempting to discover how to shorten the distance between the atoms (or something). In present day, he's emerging from what seems to be reclusive period in solitude, having handed the company down to his protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) years ago; his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) is some sort of head of research, too. Cross has perfected shrinking technology that Pym gave up on years ago, except without the knowledge that Pym's suit, which shrinks its wearer to the size of a bug, is still active.

Enter Scott into this whole thing, because Pym thinks the technology is dangerous and simply wants to fight fire with fire. From here, we get the usual superhero shtick: Scott trains to become a hero dubbed "Ant-Man" much to his chagrin by "communicating" with the counterpart insect, which does give us a cool sequence where he fights with another, cameoing Avenger. When the climax comes, the shifting perspective of big-vs.-small takes over in such creative ways (such as the battleground of Scott's final encounter with someone in a different, also-tiny suit called the Yellowjacket being a Thomas & Friends train set or a particularly thrilling battle with a suitcase that turns LifeSavers hard candy and an iPhone into deadly weapons) that it's a wonder the final comeuppance is actually even more creative (and honestly kind of frightening in a really cool way).

This all combines to make "Ant-Man" one of the better films in this dominating franchise and just simply an enormously clever ride on its own terms (Even the sequences juxtaposed into the end credits, a phenomenon that has now dominated the franchise's way of imparting important plot details regarding the whole she-bang, are better than they've been in ages). The actors all gel rather wonderfully with their characters (Rudd in particular has a way of making Scott's abrasiveness likable, and who knew the actor we needed in these movies was Douglas, who hasn't been this strong in years), and even when the pieces of the puzzle connect exactly where one expects them to, "Ant-Man" succeeds rather hugely at making us grin too much to care too deeply.

Film Information

Paul Rudd (Scott Lang/Ant-Man), Michael Douglas (Dr. Hank Pym), Evangeline Lilly (Hope van Dyne), Corey Stoll (Darren Cross/Yellowjacket), Bobby Cannavale (Paxton), Michael Peņa (Luis), David Dastmalchian (Kurt), Tip "T.I." Harris (Dave), Judy Greer (Maggie Lang), Abby Ryder Fortson (Cassie Lang).

Directed by Peyton Reed and written by Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, and Paul Rudd, based on the comic book by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby.

Rated PG-13 (sci-fi action violence).

117 minutes.

Released on July 17, 2015.