Poor Ant-Man. He’s the Marvel hero no one can take seriously. When you have gods like Thor, super-soldiers like Captain America, and forged warriors like Iron Man, it’s hard to take someone who can shrink himself that seriously. And when news of an “Ant-Man” film hit the Internet, the general public was quick to mock the idea. What, a man that shrinks himself and retains his human strength? Big whoop!
The film knows these expectations well, and while it doesn’t subvert them, it does use them to its advantage to great comedic effect, at the cost of any dramatic or serious heft.
Just after getting out of prison, cat burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, “Anchorman”) wants to go straight, but his old robber buddies set him up with one more gig: a safe in the basement of a mansion, which belongs to the supposedly senile old scientist, Hank Pym (Michael Douglass, “Wall Street”).
Lang is shocked, however, when it’s not riches he finds, but rather a strange suit that allows him to shrink on a whim. Pym reveals he wanted him in the suit all this time, so that he can steal an experimental suit with similar technology from his old lab before the bad guys can get their hands on it.
It was a smart move to make this movie more of a heist film than a traditional superhero action movie. Lang’s new-found powers lend themselves better to a stealthier kind of story than the kind you’d see in something like “The Avengers.”
When the story calls for something with more gusto, however, it always tries to keep it small. There are explosions, yes, but they’re only on the scale of, say, the toy train set that the battle takes place on. It’s a story that knows its limits; a man whose power is shrinking cannot be taken seriously as an action star, so they don’t make him one. He’s more of a clever thief, focusing more on outsmarting the forces of evil than destroying them with whizbangs and explosions.
As I said earlier, “Ant-Man” also takes advantage of audience expectations. No one was able to take Ant-Man seriously, so the movie is not a serious one. It plays up the ridiculousness of the technology and powers at hand. It’s much funnier to see a supervillain knocked out by a bug zapper than with a typical Marvel blow, for example. And it reinforces the silliness with silly, self-aware writing.
It lacks cleverness and depth, but it’s admirable that “Ant-Man” was able to use the weaknesses of its story to an incredible advantage. If you want something that subverts the typical Marvel action-fest, “Ant-Man” is one you should check out.