“My days of breaking into places and stealing shit are over. What do you need me to do?” asks Scott Lang. Dr. Hank Pym responds, “I want you to break into a place and steal some shit.”
Marvel Studios began its Phase Two with 2013’s Iron Man 3, followed by Thor: The Dark World (also 2013), Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy (both 2014), and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). 2015 also saw the release of the sixth and final film of Marvel’s Phase Two: Ant-Man, a film that spent several years in development under director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The World’s End) prior to his departure last year due to creative difference with Marvel Studios. Marvel hired Peyton Reed as Wright’s replacement in the director’s chair and brought Adam McKay and Ant-Man star Paul Rudd to polish the script. The result? Another terrific Marvel production despite the long and rocky road it took to bring Ant-Man to theaters. I recently saw Reed’s Ant-Man on the big screen, and it was a much better film than many had anticipated; it was a joy from beginning to end.
2015’s Ant-Man follows an ex-thief who is recruited by an inventor to become a superhero called the Ant-Man so that he can steal the Yellowjacket suit from Pym Technologies before it is mass-produced and sold to those who intend to bring war and chaos to the world. Reed assembled a fine cast that includes Paul Rudd (as Scott Lang/Ant-Man), Evangeline Lilly (as Hope Van Dyne), Corey Stoll (as Darren Cross/Yellowjacket), Michael Douglas (as Dr. Hank Pym), Bobby Cannavale (as Paxton), Michael Pena (as Luis), Tip “T.I.” Harris (as Dave), Anthony Mackie (as Sam Wilson/Falcon), Judy Greer (as Maggie), Martin Donovan (as Mitchell Carson), John Slattery (as Howard Stark), and Hayley Atwell (as Peggy Carter). Rudd is perfectly cast as Lang, who has difficulty in starting over after his parole and wants to be able to see his daughter. Lang’s background makes him an ideal candidate for taking up the Ant-Man mantle, and Rudd captures the grief and remorse for Lang’s past as well as his humor. Lilly creates a complex character in Hope, who is bitter toward her father over her mother’s death but recognizes that she must help him train Lang for the greater good. Douglas’ portrayal of Pym grounds the film and adds dramatic weight and validation to the proceedings (in the same way Robert Redford had in Captain America: The Winter Soldier). Stoll is quite good as Cross, Pym’s former protégé whose resentment for Pym blinds him from realizing how dangerous the Yellowjacket technology he develops really is. Pena is also hilarious as Lang’s former cellmate, stealing every scene he’s virtually in.
Reed’s strong direction helps balance the visuals with the humor as well as the standout performances. The screenplay by Wright, Joe Cornish, McKay, and Rudd presents a terrific origin story for the small superhero and balances the drama with the humor (of which there is plenty). The father-daughter parallels between Pym and Hope and Lang and his daughter Cassie were an interesting exploration as well as the framing into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Pym’s distrust of the Stark family was fun to see whenever it was brought up). Russell Carpenter’s cinematography matches the playful tone of the film, and the macro photography was quite impressive as well). The production design by Shepherd Frankel and Marcus Rowland creates a contemporary world that fits in with the other Marvel Studios productions (the Pym Technologies interiors were very sleek and cool). The editing by Dan Lebental and Colby Parker Jr. gives the film a good pace and the visual effects were impressive (especially the sequences where Ant-Man becomes small). Christophe Beck delivers a cool, ’60s-inspired score with a hip main theme for Ant-Man and groovy action music. Although I was initially disappointed when Edgar Wright left the film in pre-production, I am very satisfied with the film that Peyton Reed has made (a collaboration with McKay and Rudd that used Wright’s strong story foundation). Ant-Man is a clever, hilarious heist film that brings Marvel’s Phase Two to a close and starts setting up Phase Three (see you in 2016, Captain America: Civil War!).