Marvel's Ant-Man is very much a movie of three parts, all of which vary in degree of quality from unwatchable to spectacular. I spent an hour and fifteen minutes of this movie ready to walk out of the theater. The last 45 minutes rewarded my patience with some of Marvel's most exhilarating action scenes and character moments to date.
The first act establishes Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) as the creator of something called the "Pym Particle," which condenses the space between atoms without sacrificing the density of the material it's applied to. That's why Ant-Man can shrink so small and still punch bad guys at full strength. Pym hand-picks a gifted cat burglar named Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a man who consistently finds himself on the wrong side of the law in his estranged daughter's name, to steal another Ant-Man-like suit known as the "Yellowjacket," developed by Pym's protegé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Act two presents some very heavy-handed exposition that seems to drag on forever in an inconsistent tone, between Lang training for his big heist and lots of talking among Pym, Lang, and Pym's daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). It reminded me of an Honest Trailer I saw for Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones where Screen Junkies ripped it apart for having too much inconsequential dialogue and not enough Star Wars-y stuff. That's how a full hour of Ant-Man feels.
Not to mention some of the exposition takes place among some of the saddest excuses for sidekick characters ever conceived. The talented Michael Peña shows up as Scott's ever-lovin' buddy Luis who always seems eager to get his "homies" in on the next big score. With the material given, Peña, who was once in Oscar consideration for films such as Crash and End of Watch, is forced to play a one-note stereotype that made me cringe in the worst way every time he was on screen. Frankly I'm surprised he even agreed to do the role. Rounding out Lang's team of heist buddies are Dave (T.I.) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian). They're unfunny and boring to watch, but they do get Scott out of a jam once or twice.
The high point of act two is a stellar fight sequence between Ant-Man and a character who shall not be named but one that audiences have definitely seen before. It's staged, executed and edited with precision and thus is simultaneously funny, engaging and thrilling. No doubt a remnant of Edgar Wright's involvement.
The third act then feels like something of an apology for the long-winded exposition, but, man, is it one hell of an "I'm sorry." Stoll's performance as the villainous Cross eventually finds time to shine through. I think that the rogues gallery of MCU villains has generally been very weak outside of Loki. Kingpin from Netflix's Daredevil series is probably the next best. Then I would argue Cross to round out the top 3. What sets him on a slightly higher plane than, say, Ultron is that Cross introduces very personal stakes for the hero by striking at the very heart of what makes Lang who he is, and that's something that very few, if any, of these villains have done for their heroes.
In the process, we get to see some of the best, most unique action sequences of the Marvel canon. Never before in movie history, and likely never again (Ant-Man 2?), will you see two miniature men fight on top of a moving model train by hurling the caboose and dining car at one another. The visual effects are awesome, the 3D is great, and the action is very smartly assembled. The cast is generally very good, but you can tell Adam McKay & Paul Rudd botched the rewrites.
Lastly I should mention that I was concerned with how Ant-Man might fit into the larger scope of the MCU. Aside from that fight scene in the second act, there are several passing references in dialogue that make the viewer aware of the film's place. It's kind of like Daredevil in that sense. Of course there's also the obligatory Stan Lee cameo and mid & post-credits scenes, which are not to be missed. When Ant-Man is at its best, its a perfect match in tone as well. It's just so damn inconsistent for awhile. In the end it's still a worthy addition to the canon.
Exhilarating, unique action scenes
Corey Stoll as Darren Cross/Yellowjacket
Personal stakes for the hero
Great for kids/family
Offensively stereotypical supporting characters
No real connection with main characters in first and second acts
Written by Ben C. of The Reel