Remember the time when superheroes were all candy floss and entertaining, especially in comic books? You knew some of the plots were ridiculous, and even badly told, but they were fun. Then came the Batman series and the others followed suit - every superhero now has to be intense and brooding, with plenty of complications. They just do not have fun anymore. Which is why Ant-Man is a refreshing change - much needed, and not requiring too much introspection.
Marvel Comics, the same Universe that the Avengers
belong to, is anyway brighter than DC, and Ant-Man exemplifies this with a typical Hollywood masala story in the latest movie by Peyton Reed. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the inventor of the Ant Suit that shrinks the person who wears it, has left S.H.I.E.L.D. many years ago. At present, he is estranged from both his daughter Hope (Evengeline Lilly) and his protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Cross wants Pym's secret formula for the suit, and the latter is determined not to give it to him, especially since Cross intends to sell the information to H.Y.D.R.A.
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a petty thief, and his newest friend is his ex-cell-mate Luis (Michael Pena). In order to provide for his daughter, whom his ex-wife now has in custody, Scott breaks into Pym's house as a burglar. Circumstances, and some pre-planned moves, get him in touch with Pym, and before he knows it, Scott is being trained to take over the mantle of Ant-Man, a position previously held by Pym himself, so that he can stop Cross from carrying out his megalomaniac intentions.
Ant-Man is overridden with jokes, and that can become pretty intolerable after a while. It is almost as if the makers have decided not to take anything seriously, even when it comes to saving the world from a fate worse than an apocalypse. On the other hand, you cannot help but wonder if the jokes are just a distraction from the larger picture, or some kind of message - that since we are all going to die anyway, we may as well go laughing. The basic premise, that of a man who is reduced to the size of an ant when he wears this magical suit, and additionally, who can train ants, is incredible enough. Maybe the writers thought that the audience's willing suspension of disbelief needs to be rewarded with some slapstick.
Once you get past that, the movie is a riot of colours and action. The melodramatic father-daughter dynamics, the tyrannical desires of the powerful, the poignant threads of new relationships, the need for posterity, and the thrill of teamwork - all of these collectively make Ant-Man a roller coaster ride of about two hours, with no time to be picky about credibility and believability. As Ant-Man goes about his business, mainly because he is a guy with a conscience, never mind his criminal record, you are right there with the little guy, overcome by a sense of pride. The reprisal of the David-Goliath theme is enough to stoke the suppressed superhero hidden in you, even as you cheer on Scott Lang and his team.
And it is Paul Rudd who takes you on this terrific journey. The casting department knew what they were doing when they picked on this smiling actor to be Ant-Man. An unlikely hero, Rudd recently confessed that he went on a diet for a year to become a superhero. He is instantly likeable, suitably funny, and endearingly real, even in the suit. He has also contributed to the screenplay, and this has to be one of his most sincere works yet - and yes, this is the same Paul Rudd who broke Jennifer Aniston's heart in The Object Of My Affection.
Evangeline Lilly, who became the poster girl for the television series LOST, portrays the rebellious and angry Hope with panache. Michael Douglas, who plays her father, is surprisingly subdued, keeping in tune with his role of a dejected man, but he manages to surprise you with a spark here and there. Corey Stoll is not the typical comic villain - he portrays Cross as somebody with shades of grey, and does a fine job with it. Michael Pena is the quintessential friend and mischief-maker.
The movie may not borrow its tone from the more recent superhero movies that we have seen, but it is more than updated on the way it uses special effects. The only reason the visuals become believable is the CGI. For example, the suit that Cross wears - well, he never wears it. It is all make-believe, and you will never know what is real or what is not. The cinematography takes advantage of the production design to give you some stunning visuals. Add to this the 3D, and you witness some superb action and expressions, with the shrunken Scott Lang flying his way into your face, without being scary.
Ant-Man is a movie with a heart, and a welcome break from the dark films that have become our fate. Look out for familiar faces of the Marvel Universe, and also for Ant-Man co-creator Stan Lee in a blink-and-miss appearance. Whatever you do, do not miss the beginning and the end credits. And, of course, a sequel is on its way.