Taking place shortly after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man has us following Scott Lang, an ex-convict down on his luck who is unable to pay the child support required to see his 6 year old daughter. After breaking into the house of ex-SHIELD agent and scientific genius Hank Pym, Scott is tasked with becoming the new Ant-Man in order to pull of a heist that will stop nefarious businessman Darren Cross from selling the secret to the Pym Particles, the science behind the suits ability to shrink, to the highest bidder.
The general plot (someone trying to stop potentially dangerous technology falling into the wrong hands) is rather similar to that of Iron Man, but the similarities don't end there. Like Iron Man, the stakes are much smaller and take on a personal feel rather than the global consequences of the more recent Marvel Cinematic Universe films - we spend a lot of time simply watching Scott learn to use the Ant-Man suit effectively, while also learning why Hank and his daughter, Hope Van Dyne, have been distant for so long. It's a breath of fresh air when coming this close on the heels of Avengers: Age of Ultron, dropping the destruction porn and increasingly frequent action in favour of a slower, more deliberately paced story that ends Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with something more experimental (and significantly more comedic) than anything we have seen so far.
And this change of tone and pace really pays off. If Ant-Man isn't the best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and it may well be), then it is certainly in the top three. I'm as surprised as you are about this, but it's true - other than an opening that may be just a little too slow, Ant-Man is a non-stop barrage of pure imagination and creative fun, using the idea of shrinking technology to it's full potential in ways that are completely unexpected. And this only works because Ant-Man isn't ashamed or embarrassed about what it is, refusing to roll it's eyes at itself or give the audience a "nudge nudge, wink wink" to try and say "hey, I know I'm silly and knowing that makes me smart". Instead, Ant-Man is earnest, sincere, self confident and fully willing to embrace its central concept - which allows the audience to fully buy into it as well.
Paul Rudd carries the film's main plot and action sequences just fine, making Scott likeable enough for us to forgive his failings, but he doesn't really seem to change as a character over the course of the film - he starts and ends Ant-Man as a good guy just trying to do what's right. Really, Ant-Man relies more on Hank Pym for the emotional core of the film, his strained relationship with his daughter Hope Van Dyne being the focus of multiple scenes throughout - a smart choice considering how believable and interesting Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly are as father and daughter, a relationship which also parallels the difficulty that Scott has maintaining a relationship with his own daughter.
But it is Michael Peña's Luis, Scott's ex-cellmate and devoted partner in crime, who is the real MVP of Ant-Man. I mentioned earlier that Ant-Man was more comedic than any other film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that's almost entirely thanks to how good Michael Peña is and how much heart he puts into his character. I hadn't seen him in a comedic role before now, but he's a natural, his brilliant sense of comedic timing ensuring that every joke he is part of lands perfectly, whether that be his general aura of awkwardness whenever he speaks or the lengthy monologues he tells in order to convey the most simple pieces of information, one of which actually ends the film on one of the funniest closing shots I've ever seen.
If Ant-Man does have any flaws worth pointing out, they are few and far between. I've seen others talk about how they think that antagonist Darren Cross is underdeveloped, but I never felt the same - Corey Stoll balances the characters clear instability with a sort of spiteful charm that makes him memorable, and we get a decent understanding of his resentment towards Hank Pym (a resentment not unlike the bitter father/son relationship that Hank has with Ultron in the comics) thanks to the films willingness to slow down and explore it's characters. My only complaint with the character is that he is evil from the start - Ant-Man implies at one point that it may be his exposure to the Pym Particles that is making him insane, and I'd have rather seen that develop over the course of the film, which would have made him a somewhat more tragic figure than the one way actually get. Either way, he was still an entertaining villain, and one of the few bad guys from a solo Marvel Cinematic Universe film that I would actually like to see return in some capacity.
It's also worth mentioning that other than the scenes she shares with Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly is almost completely wasted in Ant-Man. There appears to be something of a commentary on the much talked about topic of Marvel Studios failing to produce a female-led superhero film, particularly in the first of the two post-credit scenes, but when the film is constantly coming up with excuses as to why the clearly more qualified person isn't able to use the Ant-Man suit (thus necessitating the need for Scott in the first place) then you have to question how dedicated Marvel Studios actually are to the idea of better representation in their films.
I don't think we'll ever now just how much of Ant-Man was created by Edgar Wright, and although I'm curious about what could have been, the version of Ant-Man that we got was so good anyway that it becomes difficult to grumble. From the moment that Scott puts on the Ant-Man suit in his bath right up until the films closing moments, I was completely engrossed by a combination of perfect humour, visually arresting style, intriguing characters and a plot that you wouldn't usually associate with superhero films. Ant-Man isn't just surprisingly good, it's genuinely great, with much larger links to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe than many people (including myself) previously thought - and I can't recommend it enough.