This past weekend, the Mysterious Mr. C and I kicked the wedding planning up a notch – we started creating an itinerary for our honeymoon, expanded our registries, and decided on flower patterns (we’re making our own). It was a bit intense, so to treat ourselves, we went to see Marvel Studio’s latest superhero flick, Ant-Man. Featuring a lesser-known character from the Marvel comics, the film didn’t have the same kind of opening weekend as some of the other franchises, but it was the most fun I’ve had watching a Marvel movie since Captain America: The Winter Soldier. (Note: Though I thoroughly enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy, I spent much of the film trying to figure out how their story fit in with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so it wasn’t quite the joy-ride Ant-Man was, at least for me.)
Ant-Man tells the story of Scott Lang, a down-on-his luck cat burglar who is desperately trying to go straight after being released from prison, and Dr. Hank Pym, the inventor of a shrinking technology and the original Ant-Man, who wants to steal similarly miniaturized hardware from his former protégé, Darren Cross, who is attempting to sell it (to Hydra agents, as it turns out). Pym, having taken notice of some of Lang’s previous heists, recruits him for the very skills that Lang is trying so hard not to use and together, along with Pym’s daughter Hope and a ragtag crew of other ex-cons, attempt to take the competing suit off the market.
Part of the reason I found Ant-Man to be so enjoyable was that it wasn’t really tied into any of the other films in the MCU. Oh sure, it featured a couple of references to Avengers: Age of Ultron, a cameo by Anthony Mackie as “Falcon,” and a post-credit scene linking Ant-Man to Captain America: Civil War, but – minus the post-credit scene – they didn’t require watching all of the other movies in the series to really understand. And, unlike Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the nods felt natural, not shoe-horned in because “it’s all connected.”
I also really liked the fact that Ant-Man was predominantly an action movie without a love story sub-plot. True, Pym does open a door to catch Lang and Hope mid-kiss (that’s not really a spoiler, right?), and there is Lang’s strained relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, but neither of those set pieces/story lines has the same kind of emphasis as the one featuring the Hulk and Black Widow in Age of Ultron, which got all kinds of people (myself included) riled up. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a good love story every now and then, but I prefer them when they make sense to the overall story and aren’t thrown in simply to pander to female audience members. Because newsflash, girls like action too!
Unfortunately, in Ant-Man’s case, the action-filled second half felt a little too rushed to me. While the first part of the film, as the Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan points out, “churns out a setup that is as protracted as it is necessary, given the novelty of the character and the audience’s unfamiliarity with his back story,” the last hour was spent trying to neatly tie up all of the loose ends that had been introduced during that churn. While some of the bow-tying worked, some of it did not. Take Pym and Hope, for example. They’ve been estranged for a number of years over secrets concerning the death of Mrs. Pym. When Hank finally opens up to Hope, everything changes on a dime, which didn’t really feel that believable to me. Indeed, there were several times when I leaned over to C and whispered: “Well, that escalated quickly!”
Overall though, Ant-Man was a fun way to spend an evening. The pacing was a little uneven, but Paul Rudd’s Lang was witty and endearing, much like Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill in Guardians. You just couldn’t help rooting for him, which shows, once again, that Marvel’s biggest strength is its casting. Beginning with Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man, the studio has chosen the perfect people to embody these characters, making you love their portrayals so much that you will cheer for them regardless of what plot holes may emerge in their stories.