Focusing on an underrated and largely forgotten comic book superhero, Marvel’s new movie “Ant-Man,” which premiered Friday, delivers a refreshing and character-centered story outside of their typical superhero bash fests.

Director Payton Reed combines superheroes with a unique heist plot, alongside the added everyday difficulty of saving the world. Though the setup to the actual heist lasts well over an hour, audiences will appreciate the glue that holds each scene together: comedy.

Ant-Man doesn’t take itself too seriously. The film respectfully mocks its own concept and pleasantly utilizes the same criticisms any negative critics would express.

The laughter begins with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a master thief and struggling father. Playing a protagonist, especially a Marvel protagonist, is a definite highlight for comedic actor Paul Rudd (Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin), working off a resume of mostly funny but nameless and forgettable secondary characters. Blending in with a near-perfect cast, Rudd is typically charismatic and goofy but he also shows an unexpected touch of paternal empathy.

Michael Peña (Crash, Fury) is hysterical as Scott Lang’s non-threatening partner in crime, which is a surprising but pleasant change from his usual dramatic roles. Michael Douglas plays Dr. Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man super hero; he is a highly sarcastic mentor passing the torch (or superhero suit) to Scott. Pym’s daughter and ass-kicker Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) inherits her father’s sarcasm. But she struggles to portray her own daddy and mommy issues in a way that made me care beyond my understanding that it’s meant to be a parallel to Scott’s distant relationship with his own daughter. That said, a strong familial core personalizes and strengthens this story, unlike the eye-rolling bromances between the Avengers in their blockbuster adventures.

On the flip side, like most of Marvel’s stand-alone antagonists, the evil Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) falls flat. Attempting to evoke sympathy as an unappreciated protégé, Darren only manages to join the long list of generic, heartless villains. What Darren lacks as a compelling character, he eventually makes up for in action through his awesomely designed suit and alter ego, Yellowjacket. Creative, well-paced, and sometimes even comical action sequences drive the latter half of Ant-Man. The visual effects, notably when in insect mode, are beautifully utilized, too.

Lang first made his Marvel appearance as a supporting character in the March 1979 issue of The Avengers comic. Lang first donned the Ant-Man suit in April 1979 in “The Astonishing Ant-Man,” according to Marvel. Despite Ant-Man’s lack of mainstream appeal, moviegoers still made the film a No. 1 box office hit ($58 million over the weekend). Its respectable summer debut perhaps says more about Rudd, a veteran comedian and actor, than the unfamiliar character itself.

 

Paul Rudd Ant-Man
Comedian Paul Rudd steps out of his comfort zone to star in Marvel’s “Ant-Man.” (Photo credit: Marvel)

 

Ant-Man offers a unique but effective take on Marvel’s usual superhero formula. The film will be refreshing to some fans and uncomfortable to others. Ant-Man stands out in an industry that’s now saturated with box office-rich superhero films that oftentimes lack the charisma that fans of the comics they’re based on have grown to appreciate. It wasn’t anchored down by the expectations of the masses. Instead, it silently crawled into theaters, in the wake of mindless bashing and destruction brought on by characters like the Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor in the Avengers sequel released this summer. It’s a nice change of pace and an opportunity for superhero fans to acquaint (or reacquaint) themselves with a Marvel oldie. Regardless, more of Ant-Man can be expected in next year’s Captain America: Civil War.

If Ant-Man proves one thing, when it comes to Marvel’s superheroes, size isn’t everything.

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