This one I recommend.

This one I recommend.

*Insert smallness joke here*

*Insert smallness joke here*

I made a mistake in my review of the second Avengers movie when I called it the final movie of the second phase in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. The real finale, however, is Ant-Man, a project that veered dangerously close to Development Hell and went through several directors, including Edgar Wright, before time was running out for it to start begin being made properly. And yet, by some weird turn of events, people actually like this movie more than Avengers: Age of Ultron!

Hope and Hank fill Scott in on their plans to stop Cross.

Hope and Hank fill Scott in on their plans to stop Cross.

Yes, folks. The general consensus amongst both fans and critics seems to be that Ant-Man is an unexpected delight, with better writing, stronger acting, and far more seamless references to the rest of the Cinematic Universe films than the last Marvel flick, even if the stakes aren’t as high in this one and the story, in more ways than one, is on a smaller scale. Boy do I hope that’s the last size pun I am required to make.

Ant-Man opens in the year 1989 and we see a young version of Michael Douglas‘ character Hank Pym, who in the comics is both the original Ant-Man and the person who helped Tony Stark create Ultron. We also meet an older version of Hayley Atwell‘s Agent Carter, of Captain America and “that one TV show” fame, and Tony’s father Howard Stark (as previously played by John Slattery in Iron Man 2), as they talk to Pym about his latest invention – a piece of technology that can decrease the distance between the atoms of an object but increase its density and strength, i.e. shrinking it. Pym learns that S.H.I.E.L.D. are trying to replicate his trick of creating a battle suit that can shrink both itself and its wearer, and so he leaves the company and vows to keep his secret hidden.

Years later, Pym’s much more malicious pupil Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), has been put in charge of recreating the shrinking war suits, now called Yellowjackets, but the only suit that works is the original Ant-Man suit, safely sealed away in Pym’s home until it ends up in the hands of a different man – Scott Lang (Paul Rudd).

Scott is an ex-burglar and overall unfortunate guy. Having just finished a lengthy prison sentence, his wife and child now live with a douchebag cop played by Bobby Cannavale and he’s forced to stay with his ditzy best friend Luis (Michael Peña) until he can even hope of getting a job anywhere. However, when Luis proposes that Scott makes money the old-fashioned way, by pulling another heist, Scott’s desperate enough to agree. The score Luis has been informed about leads them to the house of Hank Pym, where Scott is the one that goes in and eventually gets his hands on the Ant-Man suit. Watching him try to figure out just what in the hell he’s found and how it works is loads of fun to watch.

Ant-manhattan

Scott is eventually approached by Hank Pym and his estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who’s reluctantly working for Darren Cross. Seeing good things in Scott, Pym starts teaching him the ways of the Ant-Man, including competent control of the size-alteration and even communicating with ants using brain waves or something. Pym’s goal is to take down Cross before he uses his technology for his own evil motives, and the only reason he won’t let Hope take on the task instead of Scott involves a sad demise of Hope’s mother. I will say no more than that in terms of plot details.

What I will say is that I agree with other critics who point out that all the Avengers references in this movie feel more natural and plot significant than usual. One such example is when Scott is required to break into the new Avengers HQ at one point and has a confrontation with Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), as well as a scene where Pym advises against Scott’s suggestion to call the Avengers for help against Cross, not only because of Pym’s less-than-friendly history with the Stark family, but also because the Avengers are “probably busy dropping cities out of the sky. Touché.

I will also concur that Ant-Man is a lot more fun than I think any of us saw coming. For one, it has a genuinely loveable cast of characters. Rudd makes for a funny lead and his tongue-in-cheek reactions to most of what happens to him is a great complement to the surreality of the basic Ant-Man premise, Douglas make for an amusingly no-nonsense mentor, Lilly is genuinely badass, and the biggest joy is probably the comedic supporting cast.

I am mainly referring to the crooks that Scott and Luis hang out with, including a deadpan Russian man and an eccentric black guy, as well as a buddy cop to Bobby Cannavale’s character (played by Barksdale from The Wire) who also provides some pretty hilarious reactions to this and that. And lastly: I feared early on that the wife and daughter characters would make the movie feel too clichéd, but even they managed to work and I was ultimately hoping that Scott would get his family back. In fact, the entire movie feels more like it’s a movie about family than it is just another “saving the world” superhero flick. The film’s got a lot of heart in how it portrays the relationship between not only Scott and his family, but Hope and Hank as well. It’s a nice thing to have in-between all the action bits and effects shots.

Scott Lang as Ant-Man (right) vs. Darren Cross as Yellowjacket.

Scott Lang as Ant-Man (right) vs. Darren Cross as Yellowjacket.

The visual effects in Ant-Man were done by the likes of ILM and Lola VFX, the latter being in charge of the de-aging done on Michael Douglas in the intro, which is so unnervingly good that they might as well have used witchcraft behind the scenes to revert Douglas to his 1980’s self. Miles better than “young Jeff Bridges” in Tron: Legacy! Equally convincing is the opposite effect, used on Hayley Atwell in the same scene. She looks much more like an old lady here than she did in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

On another VFX-related note, most of the scenes where Scott alters his size, whether he’s combating bad guys, interacting with ants the size of dogs, or watching the world from their perspective, is probably some of the most enthralling use of 3D and CGI we’ve had in recent years. It helps that a chunk of it was done via good old-fashioned macro photography instead of just CG, even if it doesn’t look quite as breathtaking as Microcosmos. Sure, some of the fight scenes and action sequences go on for a bit long, but thanks both to the fact that you care about the characters and the fact that it incorporates CGI and overblown effects in such creative ways, it never becomes truly boring to watch.

Ant-Man gets a strong recommendation from me. Sure it’s very similar to the first Iron Man and the villain occasionally feels generic, although these flaws are as insignificant as the bullet that pierced the gut of Herzog. The characters are rich, the effects are quite nice, the visuals are engaging, its take on the source material is delightfully tounge-in-cheek (though not quite up there with Guardians) and the fight scenes are creatively executed. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing this guy join the Avengers in the future of the Cinematic Universe. He’d surely be of more use to them than someone like The Falcon, I imagine.

NOTE: I was considering posting the Ant-Man-sized version of the trailer (yeah, somehow size played a big role in this film’s marketing) but I’d say this one here is easier on the eyes:

4/5 whatever

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