By Travis Trombley
In 2011, we asked how a Norse god of thunder could fit in with a science experiment and a man in a metal suit. In 2014, we wondered again about the wisdom of adding a talking raccoon and a walking tree to the mix. Both turned out rather spectacularly, yet audiences still furrowed their brows at Marvel’s newest title about a guy who can get really tiny and talk to insects.
The 12th - yes, 12th - installment of the juggernaut that is the Marvel cinematic universe and the end of Marvel’s “Phase 2,” director Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man was an unexpected but inspired choice, words that define the casting and some inventive action scenes. However, even this minuscule hero can’t escape the confines of a formula that’s proven itself effective time-and-again.
The film follows Scott Lang, played by Paul Rudd, a mechanical engineer / free-running burglar fresh out of prison and just trying get a job and make his daughter proud. He declares a desire to stop breaking into places and stealing stuff. Then, after some failed attempts at regular employment, physicist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) recruits Lang to break into a place a steal some stuff. That place is Pym’s old company, Pym Tech, and the stuff is the ‘Pym particle,’ a dangerous nuclear innovation that allows for the shrinking powers of the Ant-Man suit, but is - of course - capable of causing world-altering destruction. Pym’s protege Darren Cross forced Pym out of the company and plans to make a profit by selling the Pym Particle to the typical baddies. So, along with Hope Pym, Hank’s martial artist daughter played by Evangeline Lilly, the band prepares for a heist of Pym Tech.
In the same vein that Captain America: Winter Soldier crossed genres as a spy thriller in superhero spandex, so too is this film a superhero twist on the classic heist film throughout its first two acts. We see the recruitment phase, the planning phase (which doubles as the essential training montage of any superhero origin story), and the eventual heist, complete with a water-pipe entry, guard swaps, and laser grids. Sadly, though, the heist plot devolves into a Marvel-typical and rather hasty bang-boom-zap-whap fest for the last half of the third act.
Up until that flashy third act, the film spends much of its time on character and relationships. We sympathize with Lang’s desire to become the hero his daughter already sees him as while struggling just to get a job and pay child support. By the same token, Pym and Hope have to navigate the lingering scars of Pym’s distance after the death of Hope’s mom. Even Cross’ megalomania is due in part to a sense of daddy-abandonment, communicated by a mix of respectful indulgence and self-absorbed triumph. But with the inclusion of the unmemorable brawl at the end, few of these character dynamics, with the exception of Pym and Hope’s daddy-daughter issues, get a chance to really land.