I remember talking to a friend in what would now be considered the early days of Marvel’s movie empire, and appreciating how clever the studio had been in grounding even the most ridiculous concepts. We were living in the era of gritty superheroes, I argued, and there was no way to buy into the idea of a buff outer space god and his magic hammer unless the movie was couched in some sort of pseudo-science. Thor, Iron Man, and other early Marvel movies did their best to keep their comic bookiness at arm’s length — and world domination ensued.
But you can only hold one note for so long, and as Marvel has spread its wings with stranger characters, the results have been mixed. Guardians of the Galaxy managed to pull off a tree named Groot and a talking raccoon thanks to its singular, rock n’ roll attitude, but Avengers: Age of Ultron collapsed beneath the weight of a jovial Spaderbot and a mess of inexplicable mythology.
Now it’s time for Ant-Man, and it’s hard to remember any Marvel movie that’s been viewed with more skepticism. Not only is it arguably the most ludicrous Marvel movie character yet, but the film is better known for the director that left it — Hot Fuzz’s Edgar Wright — than the one that made it. Ant-Man has been cloaked in a haze of preordained failure, and I fully expected it to follow Ultron as Marvel’s second confused disappointment of the year.
I love it when I’m wrong.
Here’s some real talk: this set-up is dumb. The whole concept of an insect-sized superhero is dumb. The idea of said superhero using mental telepathy to get ants to do his bidding (yes, he does this) is insanely dumb. But Ant-Man knows it’s dumb. Rudd and Anchorman’s Adam McKay rewrote the script after Edgar Wright left the project, and what they’ve constructed is a movie that knows just how skeptical people are going to be, and gets around the problem by winking at nearly every major trope we’ve come to expect from superhero movies.