Surely it's fair to be skeptical about a superhero movie built around a character who shrinks and interacts with insects. Taken at their most basic qualities, several comic book films could probably have their premises questioned with a heavy dose of cynicism but Marvel's Ant-Man might be the silliest yet, at least in theory. The trick, and the film and its many creators keenly understand this, is to play it all with something of a straight face while still winking just a bit. Ant-Man is a comedy with action elements. There's little of the dramatic dire consequences seen throughout many of the Marvel films starring the Avengers principals. Indeed, that very fact is actually made light of in this movie.
Directed by Peyton Reed, it stars Paul Rudd as a newly paroled thief named Scott Lang who gets roped into another heist by his buddy (the scene-stealing Michael Peña) that then leads to a very strange encounter with Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Pym fears for the future of his namesake company after current head Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) plans to use Pym's long-guarded secret technology of shrinking humans for nefarious purposes. Pym recruits Lang to, along with his daughter, played by Evangeline Lilly, stop Cross before it's too late.
It all becomes serious matters regarding heroics and villainry without that huge, pounding thump of self-importance that elicits dread in most Marvel films. And it also doesn't feel ridiculously plot-oriented and convoluted, as another well-liked recent Marvel comedy did. Set pieces play out cleverly without feeling tiresome. The characters fall into cliche better than most. Plus they're developed probably as much as they need to be, all things considered.
So Ant-Man becomes exactly the sort of Marvel adaptation you'd expect to star Paul Rudd, given his usual screen persona. The result is a subversive mainstream delight. It keeps the required parts to be a big summer blockbuster while also playing like a welcome alternative to those exact expectations. It's difficult to imagine a Marvel film (with the stakes that are inherently attached) being more satisfying under the circumstances.
Exactly who we have to thank for the movie's success is perhaps a tough one to untangle. As many know, Edgar Wright planned for years to direct an adaptation of the comic book but dropped out just before shooting began on the movie. Much of his screenplay, written with Joe Cornish, apparently remains. Adam McKay, who made the Anchorman films with Rudd, came onboard after Wright left to tweak the script. In the end, all four - including Rudd - have writing credit while Peyton Reed took over directing duties. Unlike so many efforts where the creative input is diluted by multiple hands being involved, the final product here may have actually been better off for its extra help, with many fresh eyes available to untangle the strengths and weaknesses.
Regardless, Ant-Man never comes off as anything less than a cohesive whole. Those distrustful or fatigued by the seemingly endless string of Disney/Marvel movies that too often struggle to distinguish themselves from each other are greatly encouraged to give this one a fair chance. It's really quite good at walking the line between comedy and action without ever taking itself too seriously. As annoyingly necessary as a villain is in a comic book movie, what we have here feels like a compromise. He's a background character who fits into the overall scheme as merely a piece of the whole. It's an incredibly successful reduction that allows the film to focus on the characters first and the requisite plot only as much as is absolutely necessary.
The U.S. region-free edition of Ant-Man on Blu-ray comes in two varieties from Disney and Marvel. There's a single-disc BD and a fancier version containing separate Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D discs alongside a Digital HD code. The latter is the one I was sent for review. It comes in a strikingly different black plastic case.
Under review here is just the standard Blu-ray, which looks exceptional. The film is presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio (appropriately forgoing the wider Scope ratio of most Marvel features). It's technically flawless and wonderful to the eye. Textures, depth and clarity are all reference-level quality.
Audio options begin with the English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that completely immerses the listener into this cinematic world. Sound is simply great, from the little effects to the clearness and separation of dialogue. The music, too, is really fun as the filmmakers opted to mix in jazzy pieces to set the mood of the heists next to the more traditional cues. Consistency of volume also comes through well. Other audio tracks here include an English 2.0 Descriptive Audio and French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital dubs. Subtitles are provided in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.
Special features on the disc consist of an audio commentary, featurettes and a collection of deleted scenes. A number of Marvel-related projects can be previewed from the Sneak Peeks section of the main menu.
The audio commentary has director Peyton Reed and star Paul Rudd lightly discussing the various aspects of the film and its production in a fun, breezy track.
Three featurettes vary in scope and focus, with "Making Of An Ant-Sized Heist: A How-To Guide" (14:34) serving as the most traditional and basic behind the scenes piece. It's promotional fluff, to be sure. The shorter "Let's Go To The Macroverse" (8:05) holds somewhat more interest in that it looks at the photography required to show the tiny details seen from Ant-Man's perspective. "WHIH News Front" (9:12) is a cobbled together set of fictional media clips on the film's characters.
The Deleted & Extended Scenes can be played with or without audio commentary from Reed and Rudd. There are eight in total, with the last few being not entirely finished in terms of effects. Most are just bits and pieces of throwaway excisions but the first one, a wisely discarded scene with Scott Lang pretending to be a cable man to get inside Hank Pym's house, is more of a full sequence.
A quick Gag Reel (3:25) is cute but, like pretty much all of these bonus features, fairly inconsequential.