Let’s take a moment to talk about destruction. Scales of destruction, to be precise. For earthquakes, we use the ‘Moment Magnitude Scale’, for tornados it’s the ‘Fujita Scale’ and hurricanes are classified according to ‘Saffir-Simpson’. There’s no official system for classifying destruction in movies per se (the ratings system is too broad), but if we were to put a name to it, the ‘Marvel Scale’ might be a good place to start.
-A ‘5' would be the most severe: your full-blown, blown-up world situation, where entire planets are either destroyed or critically imperilled (see: Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: The Dark World, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer).
-A ‘4’ would cover city-wide destruction, where entire skyscrapers tumble like box office records, generally with little or no regard for their hapless occupants (see: The Avengers, The Avengers 2: Age of Ultron).
-A ‘3’ is a shocking amount of destruction localised to a single area, such as a small town or neighbourhood, otherwise known as ‘a standard fight’ in just about every Marvel movie (see: Thor, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Iron Man 2, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and anything with a Hulk).
-A ‘2’ would cover destruction on the human scale, where countless pawns (ideally ‘baddies’, then soldiers/cops and, when permissible, innocent bystanders) are mowed down by alien weapons, unwieldly superpowers or falling debris (see: Blade: Trinity, X-Men: The Last Stand).
What, then, is a ‘1’? The answer is Ant-Man, where the violence is kept to such a minimum that the most meaningful casualty is an actual ant. An ant named ‘Antony’. What we get instead is a family-friendly Marvel movie where humour and dialogue offer a refreshing respite from all the usual, unimaginable carnage.
Marvel actually frames Ant-Man as a heist movie, and that’s a good way to look at it. When an unscrupulous scientist (played by House of Cards’ Corey Stoll) perfects the science of atomic manipulation – allowing humans to be shrunk to the size of an ant whilst capable of enormous feats of strength – his former mentor and the original inventor of the technology (Michael Douglas) recruits a cat burglar named Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to steal the prototype military suit and destroy all related records, believing it to be a threat to global security. Lang is given his own special suit, one that allows him to shrink back and forth as he pleases, then trained both in martial arts and the ability to communicate with insects. Think 'Honey I Shrunk The Doctor Dolittle', combined with a little Matrix and a lot of Oceans 11.
The implications of a ‘Marvel-1’ movie cut both ways. The downside is that the stakes feel significantly lower, with ‘end of the world’ being replaced by ‘might get caught’ as the biggest threat for most of the film. Generally, though, it’s all upside, with the smaller-scale storyline (and unavoidably concomitant puns) allowing for a funnier and more intimate superhero tale. The size-related jokes are predictably frequent, but thankfully also creative enough to surprise, and apportioned evenly to allow for more general comedy as well.
As the title character Rudd is perfectly cast, allowing his boy-next-door charm to deliver Tony Stark level wise-cracks without the ego or arrogance to sour them. It’s the Peter Parker model, where self-deprecation reigns supreme and heroism is steeped in humility. Coupled with the comedic offerings of his ex-con buddies (led by a scene-stealing Michael Peña), and bouncing off the dry wit of his instructor/love interest Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Rudd simultaneously leads Ant-Man as confidently as any of his comic book compadres whilst downplaying it to a point that almost parodies the Marvel world in which it exists.
Funny, charming and very family friendly, Ant-Man is unquestionably light fare, but also a solid debut for what will almost certainly develop into a meatier and more assured trilogy.