Ant-Man may be small, but the action and laughs definitely aren't.
The superhero genre with its action and thrill typically has a measure of gravitas to it, creating a general image for the superhero: attractive, strong and serious about their commitment to doing good. As such, the casting of Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy was quite the surprise to many, as we've come to expect the Chris Hemsworths in physique and the Robert Downey, Jrs. in charm. First typecast as a goofball of sorts, Pratt defied expectations and was a delight as Peter Quill/Star Lord, and now Paul Rudd is following in his footsteps in Ant-Man and taking the humor to the next level.
But the film starts out quite serious. Scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) resigns in 1989 from S.H.I.E.L.D. after learning that they are attempting to recreate his Ant-Man technology, which he believes to be dangerous. Pym decides to keep the secret of it and take it with him to the grave. Unfortunately, in the present, he finds himself alone as his estranged daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who took his wife's last name due to her resentment of Pym, and former protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) have forced him out of his own company. To make matters worse, Pym discovers that Cross is close to finalizing the Yellowjacket, a militarized version of the Ant-Man technology.
Elsewhere, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is released from prison after finishing his sentence for well-intentioned grand larceny and has decided to get his life back on the straight and narrow. After all, he has a daughter to take care of, so he declines the request of his old cellmate Luis (Michael Peña) for one last job. After a brief stint at a Baskin Robbins that ends with his manager claiming to be a fan of his crime but still firing him, Lang changes his mind and decides to join Luis, Dave (T.I.) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian) in burgling the house of some rich old man, a man who turns out to be Hank Pym.
After successfully breaking into the house past the security system, Lang breaks into Pym's safe. Expecting to find tons of money, he is surprised to find only what he believes to be some sort of old motorcycle suit. The next day, he tries on the suit, curious as to what is so special about it, and accidentally shrinks himself to insect size.
Despite overlapping more directly with the present Marvel universe, the film falls on the funnier side of the spectrum than its cohorts. Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy may have snappy dialogue and large doses of humor, but both Tony Stark and Peter Quill have more serious demeanors, the aforementioned gravitas, whereas Scott Lang is painted differently. While his more down-to-earth (pun intended) nature brings humanity back to the superhero, some of the humor in Lang's character is just a touch too much. For instance, he says that he has a Master's in electrical engineering, and yet he plays dumb when Dr. Pym talks about the sub-atomic. This is clearly a moment meant to educate the audience couched as Scott not understanding basic physics, but it's one of several moments when humor comes before consistent characterization for Scott.
Nevertheless, Paul Rudd does a solid job in bringing him to life, particularly in the cute but realistic relationship with his daughter, likely due to Rudd's contributions to the screenplay itself. His chemistry with Evangeline Lilly works, but the romance would have been better saved for a sequel considering how antagonistic their relationship is for a large part of the film. The other friendships with Michael Peña, T.I. and David Dastmalchian are mostly props for comedy, making them rather forgettable.
Ant-Man may be a bit wonky in the finer points, but this is still a superhero movie, and it delivers where it counts. The jokes are well-timed and in a great variety from witty lines to situational humor, and the visuals are captivating, taking advantage of the ant perspective to present some great shots from beginning to end. Perhaps what works best is the pacing -- the tension in conjunction with the length. Defying the standard of inserting a fight in every other scene, the movie mostly builds to a single plan and its execution at the end, making the final battle seem much more epic and satisfying. Overall, everything just works -- all of the action, plenty of laughs and just enough heart to hold it all together.
Images courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.