Hank Pym, 26 years after literally smacking someone upside the face for trying to turn his molecular distance shrinking technology into a commercial weapon enterprise, is forced to train a replacement on how to be Ant-Man because of his former protege's greedy ambitions. He forces his daughter to train a thief in everything she excels at naturally for reasons. Okay, that's admittedly a cynical summary of the plot of Ant-Man, the newest Marvel superhero film that quickly turned into one of my favorites. It's wildly entertaining. It has a silly sense of humor that no one has tried to pull off since Kenneth Branagh directed Thor. The effects are wonderful and they finally got that Benjamin Button CGI-de-aging makeup to look realistic.
But here's the problem: the female characters are terrible. They are. Janet van Dyne, aka Wasp, aka Ant-Man's partner in just about every Ant-Man story every told, is fridged to justify treating Hope van Dyne, aka the second Wasp, like a potential damsel in distress for the entire running time of the movie. New Ant-Man Scott Lang's ex-wife might say 10 words in the entire film and has no character development, and his daughter Cassie might as well be an antique lamp for all the value she brings to the plot. The women are pushed to the side in every possible encounter merely to justify Scott Lang becoming Ant-Man in this story and it's bad. There's no other way to describe it. It's bad. Marvel has a bad habit of infantilizing and backseating major female characters to make the big strong men look bigger and stronger and it needs to stop.
Worst of all, Hope van Dyne actually addresses this awful double-standard as her only real plotline in the film and nothing happens. There's no clever twist or reinvention of the "train the unskilled chosen one to replace the more qualified woman for the job" trope. The twist they throw out is how we find out about Janet's terrible fate without her getting even a line of dialogue. Thanks for inventing The Avengers, Janet, enjoy your 10 seconds of screentime to launch the third phase. That twist, by the way, actually encourages Janet to stop complaining about being pushed aside for no good reason and just cozy up to Scott Lang. That's what writers and readers refer to as acting out of character.
Now, with the proper feminist context of the film, I can safely say it's surprisingly good for an Ant-Man story. The focus on silly humor instead of destructive sincerity (I'm looking at you, Avengers: Age of Ultron) is a welcome reprieve from the recent Marvel "Everything is terrible and everyone dies" war movies. Scott's rogue team of b-rate thieves are actually funny and well-used.
Further, Corey Stoll as increasingly mad-scientist/former Hank Pym protege Darren Cross is the best Marvel villain since Loki all the way back in 2011. He has a personality. He has brains. He has a plan that comes closer to succeeding than most over Marvel villains onscreen. He provides that perfect mix of charming and deranged to make you believe he really would attempt to sell the super-power creating miniaturized supersoldier suits to the highest bidder. This part of the plot works well.
The effects are excellent. I really thought Ant-Man was going to be a tough sell because of the need to use so much CGI to create miniature and full-size environments for Scott Lang to play in. Frankly, the best scenes in the film involve the constant flip back and forth between the two. The four varieties of ants Pym and van Dyne train him to control look real even in extreme closeups and the natural hazards of gigantic waterdrops (actually eyedropper sized) read well onscreen.
Despite hiring new writers and a new director at the last minute, Marvel clearly stuck with the vision of Ant-Man Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish created. The Scott Lang burglary team pulls all their humor from very Wright-like montages, storytelling devices, and bumbling everyman inanities. The humorous action sequences play like a sci-fi version of Hot Fuzz (I'm aware The World's End exists, thank you, and no, that's a very different beast). Adam McKay and star Paul Rudd could only have done minor tweaks, at best, for Wright's voice to still come through so strong.
Ant-Man is a fun superhero film. We don't get those very often. Savor it in theaters. Just be prepared to hate a lot of people for the misuse of Janet and Hope van Dyne onscreen.