08th Jul2015

‘Ant-Man’ Review

by Mark Allen

Stars: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Michael Peña, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Wood Harris | Written by Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish and Adam McKay & Paul Rudd | Directed by Peyton Reed

Ant-Man-UK-1-Sheet-v2[2]

Dammit, Marvel. I was all ready to give up on you after Age of Ultron, a great stinking technicolour mess of a film that entertained enough to break new box office records. I feared AoU was the shape of things to come: Marvel’s star was in its descent, and Ant-Man was going to be another nail in the coffin.

I can’t say I arrived at Monday’s screening of the film without some trepidation; the film’s tortured production schedule, significant rewrites and the sudden mysterious departure of initial director Edgar Wright scant moments before principal photography had me thinking the whole thing was going to be a patch job.  Films that replace directors during production often end up incoherent (*cough Thor2 cough*) and unfocused, as though – shockingly – the movie’s being pulled in two different directions. And that can be make and break for a comedy (as Ant-Man is largely being sold), where tone is so crucial yet incredibly difficult to get right. New director Peyton Reed certainly had his work cut out for him.

Regardless of anything that happened before cameras started rolling, the finished product sees Scott Lang (Paul Rudd on predictably affable form) stumble into the life of Dr. Hank Pym, former S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist and creator of the Pym Particle. Guess what that does. Lang is an ex-con trying straight life in San Francisco in order to get visitation rights for his daughter Cassie. Pym and his own daughter Hope recruit the crim to help prevent their particles being used to manufacture weapons of mass destruction by a very twitchy Corey Stoll, now the head of Pym’s tech company.

Another Marvel movie, another bad – and bald – industrialist trying to weaponize something cool. They have their formula and they’re sticking with it, but that doesn’t mean they can’t play with their  own tropes. After the first forty-five minutes of exposition Lang is finally given the Ant-Man suit and discovers (along with the film) a whole new world of possibilities. Instead of being seen as an unreliable crook with a lot of potential but no options, Scott chooses to disappear altogether, becoming a catalyst for Hank and Hope’s damaged relationship to repair itself and learning how to be a hero – through a series of training montages, natch. Rudd’s character arc is nicely underplayed if somewhat baffling; he goes from being unable to make a fellow prisoner flinch to taking down an Avenger in a scant hour, but the lead is so much damn fun to be with it’s easy to forgive most of the film’s minor flaws.

Ant-Man‘s two biggest strengths are Paul Rudd’s performance and the film’s willingness to make fun of its own premise, elements that are unsurprisingly intertwined. One (several, in fact) of the film’s best crowd-pleasing moments come in a battle scene that takes place in an otherwise innocuous setting and involve the microscopic carnage raining down on Lang and his similarly diminutive foe being revealed as just that: flea-sized beings knocking over cups and throwing toy trains about. To say more would spoil the fun, but the shrinking sequences may be some of my favourite moments in a Marvel movie yet. And – I don’t know if you lot know this – Marvel tend to churn awesome moments out like sausages. Anyone going into Ant-Man simply hoping to be entertained will be hugely impressed. This movie is the studio’s new Guardians of the Galaxy: it keeps the basic winning formula of every movie that’s come before but transplants it into a new genre and toys with its conventions in joyfully silly ways. In this film’s case, Ant-Man’s origin story becomes a heist movie halfway through, complete with contrived planning sequences and, yes, our hero plummeting towards a still-active laser grid. And I couldn’t be happier about that. I want all of my heist movies to involve at least one person with weird powers from now on. Ant-Man takes a goofy, semi-serious attitude towards its world and characters and runs with it, only slowing down when somebody might maybe die and oh wait is the whole world at stake again already?

That said, it would have been nice if they’d have been quite so canny with the more nuanced aspects of the film. There are some great supporting characters in Ant-Man, from Peña’s motor-mouthed, oddly sophisticated (and instantly loveable) fellow crook/sidekick; Hank Pym himself, who maintains maximum crotchety levels throughout the runtime; hell, even [redacted to maintain author’s safety] from the Avengers shows up in an entertaining if highly unnecessary cameo; but the thing is, none of them are women. Evangeline Lilly does her best as Hope Van Dyne, Pym’s estranged daughter, but she only really exists (in this one, at least) as a romantic foil for Lang and an emotional crutch for Douglas’s character. She certainly conforms to Hollywood’s notions of ‘strong’ female characters: she’s a no-nonsense businesswoman who knows martial arts and manipulates the villain with her (thankfully non-romantic) feminine wiles. Those are supposedly character traits, but the most memorable thing about Hope is her hair. To be fair, it IS great hair. Not especially nuanced, like most of Marvel’s women. But maybe having a movie about one will help resolve that. Possibly.

The movie spends a lot of time on Hope’s daddy issues, as well as Lang’s, Pym’s, Corey Stoll’s villain – even Bobby Cannavalle gets a turn playing the tortured surrogate dad. So much of Ant-Man‘s plot could have been solved with a couple of therapy sessions, frankly.

But all that occurred to me after the credits had rolled (with the obligatory STING, of course) and the smile had eventually left my face. Overthinking any element of a superhero movie is bound to cause more headaches than anyone wants, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a flick that has enjoyed itself this damn much since, well, GotG. And like GuardiansAnt-Man feels like exactly the kind of movie Marvel wants to be making. New converts will be hard to convince (unless there are some I Love You, Man fans who’ve steered clear of the funnybook stable thus far), but for now the studio are giving the people what they want.

And what the people want from Hollywood blockbusters these days is a tiny man riding a raft made of insects. What a time to be alive.

Ant-Man is released Friday 17th July.

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