Ant-Man Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly. Directed by Peyton Reed. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
Back in 2006, when Marvel first announced plans for an Ant-Man movie directed and co-written by Edgar Wright, the company had yet to launch its ambitious cinematic universe. While Wright and his screenwriting partner Joe Cornish spent the next eight years developing Ant-Man, what was once a standalone movie about a misfit thief turned superhero became one more cog in the unstoppable Marvel machine. Wright’s vision for the movie apparently no longer fit, and three months before production was scheduled to start, he abruptly left the project, to be replaced as director by Peyton Reed (Bring It On, The Break-Up).
The finished film still credits Wright and Cornish as co-writers along with Adam McKay and star Paul Rudd, and Wright as an executive producer. It’s hard to say how much more distinct the movie would have been if Wright hadn’t bowed out, but even with the more accommodating Reed at the helm, Ant-Man is still a different sort of Marvel superhero movie, a looser, funnier and lower-stakes story than Marvel’s typical world-ending spectacles. The Marvel movie it most closely resembles in tone is Guardians of the Galaxy, which also had a wisecracking outlaw as its main character. Ant-Man’s Scott Lang (Rudd) is an expert thief who is coming off a three-year prison stint, eager to go straight and reconnect with his young daughter.
Instead he ends up recruited by scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) to steal one of Pym’s creations from greedy technocrat (and typically underwhelming Marvel movie villain) Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Cross is developing a weaponized version of Pym’s Ant-Man suit, which allows its wearer to change size at will. Armed with the original suit, plus a device that allows him to communicate with ants, Scott has to mount a sort of superhero heist. Refreshingly, there is no citywide destruction or impending apocalypse; the climactic action sequence takes place among children’s toys, to great comedic effect.
Scott’s journey from screw-up to hero is a bit overly familiar, but Rudd is charming in the role, convincing in both the serious and humorous moments. The story connects more strongly to the greater Marvel universe than Wright reportedly preferred, but it still stands on its own, and the one sequence prominently featuring another Marvel character is a highlight of the movie. Overall, Ant-Man plays things relatively safe, but even if it isn’t the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World of Marvel movies, it’s still an entertaining and satisfying counterpoint to the bombast of Marvel’s other summer superhero movie.