“Ant-Man,” the final piece in Marvel’s so-called “Phase Two” of their Cinematic Universe, invites us all to do what I have done for the past five years: not to take any of this too seriously. With the constantly winking and self-effacing charm of Paul Rudd (and co-writer Adam McKay), the best Marvel movie in years is ironically the one that spits in the face of what the studio signifies.
This is the first film from the comic book behemoth since the original “Iron Man” back in 2008 that feels entirely sufficient as a film in its own right, not just a placeholder for the next super-sized sequel. Granted, some of that might be a response to its iffy economic viability at the green-lighting stage of the process (and some concerns over authorship following the departure of writer/director Edgar Wright and his screenwriting partner Joe Cornish). Nonetheless, “Ant-Man” earns a second installment by virtue of its tongue-in-cheek spirit and fun sense of scale.
Rather than set up some cataclysmic battle of the fates where the powers of good do battle with a terrifying evil that beams a big blue light up into the sky, “Ant-Man” builds up to a fight between two men for one important thing. This climax engages rather than numbs (as “Avengers” final acts tend to do) because it takes place on the human level where the rest of the film registers. It also helps that the final clash is essentially the only major one in the movie, going against Marvel’s general tendency to throw in a major action set piece every 30 minutes or so to placate the thrill-seekers in the audience.
And every time it seems like “Ant-Man” is turning into a conveyer belt of Marvel tropes, Paul Rudd’s humor kicks in to disrupt the moment and make a joke at the studio’s expense. He plays on admittedly shorter leash than someone like Judd Apatow or David Wain gives him, but his sardonic wit proves a welcome reprieve of Marvel’s faux gravitas that proves suffocating in their more commercial products.