The best thing about Marvel’s Ant-Man is that despite a computer-effects team larger than the population of Scandinavia, it plays like a charmingly tacky jet-suit robot picture for kids, the kind Japan used to churn out every week for a couple of thousand yen. It doesn’t have that familiar Marvel bloat. The key is that instead of everything getting gargantuan, the hero (Paul Rudd) shrinks down to the size of an insect and rides on the backs of ants and other wee, winged creatures that look laughably fake. But who cares if the storytelling is smart?
It’s smart-ish, anyway. Rudd plays Scott Lang, a San Francisco hacker who went to prison for pulling a Robin Hood on a corrupt corporation and now wants only to spend time with his little daughter. (Yes, this is another absent-father-and-daughter story.) Flirting with a life of crime, Scott is suddenly recruited by a scientist mogul played by a gray-bearded Michael Douglas to help him stop his ex-protégé, bald Corey Stoll, from helping to create an army of insect-size soldiers. (Wouldn’t it be more effective to shrink the opposing armies and then just stomp on them?) Evangeline Lilly with a Louise Brooks bob plays Douglas’s snippy daughter, who doesn’t see why a cluck like Scott gets to wear the ant suit instead of her. The answer lies somewhere in the subatomic world, beyond the laws of time and space but not corny father-daughter melodrama.
Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish (Shaun of the Dead, etc.) are credited with the story, but I have a feeling their touch turned out to be too anarchic for Marvel. Adam McKay and Rudd get screenplay credit, too, which means they’re likely to blame for Scott’s painfully witless interjections. It doesn’t matter too much, given that the amiable Rudd is literally impossible to dislike. Literally, not figuratively. Try to dislike him — you can’t.
I thought Lilly looked better with her hair au naturel on Lost, but I’m happy to see her cool intelligence onscreen, and Stoll gives a lean, uninflected performance — no camp, no theatrics — that I found genuinely chilling.
Ant-Man isn’t much more than pleasant (Peyton Reed directs limply), but anything Marvel that doesn’t feel Marvel-ish makes me smile. My favorite moment is when Douglas has to comment acidly on something that happened in The Avengers: Age of Ultron and stumbles over the words — he can’t get them out and is visibly distressed. If that was the take they used, what were the others like? Maybe he started screaming
“F— the %^&%# Avengers! I won’t plug your dumbass convoluted %^&%# universe!” and left on a gurney.
*This article appears in the July 13, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.