Ever since Marvel opened its own studio doors for business with Iron Man in 2008, their winning formula has largely centred on assembling the line-up for The Avengers. Whilst Ant-Man pays lip service to the franchise at large, it’s otherwise a refreshingly stand-alone story with a more comical bent than those before it, and is a lot of fun from start to finish.
The film hasn’t had an easy journey to the big screen. A long gestation period ensued from the outset with Brits Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish having written the script with Wright slated to direct, but following “creative differences” between Wright and the studio, they parted company. Both are given screenwriting credits with a hat tipped to Wright as a producer, but this clearly switched tracks to a more studio-friendly approach and was designed to fit in with the Marvel model previously established.
Troubled history aside, this film has a freeing sense of fun that hasn’t been felt in the studio’s output since Thor and Avengers Assemble. It’s refreshing to see a new superhero, perhaps one less known by the wider audience, and to see him simply sent on one mission, pitted against one bad guy. It was an inspired idea to offer lead action hero duties to Paul Rudd as Scott Lang. Largely known for his supporting roles in the likes of comedies such as Clueless and Anchorman, he relishes the opportunity to take centre stage and brings to the role an easygoing charm and sense of humour reminiscent of a young Harrison Ford. It was also a nice touch to cast Michael Douglas in his first fully-fledged elder statesman franchise role as Hank Pym; if his star has faded somewhat in the last few years since his Wall Street heyday, he re-emerges here nicely as a twinkly-eyed, grey haired mentor that on more than one occasion proves he still has plenty of lead in his pencil. Rounding out this unique set of heroes is Lost and The Hobbit trilogy’s Evangeline Lilly as Pym’s daughter Hope – a smart and agile force to be reckoned with that you know will become a love interest for the lead character, and Michael Pena in likeable comedy support mode as Scott’s friend Luis.
The plot is simple; notorious career burglar Scott gets out after a stretch in lock-up to find the only way he can make money is to head back into the life that put him behind bars in the first place. When Luis hooks him up with a heist – a big old mansion with a big old safe – he is dismayed to find nothing but a simple old suit and mask. However, curiosity gets the better of him and before long he is strapped in and hits the buttons in the gloves which makes him instantly shrink to the size of an ant. This cues the first of many dizzying action scenes that use current advances in CGI to superb effect. Scott’s bathtub becomes a vast alien landscape and his friend unwittingly turning on the tap quickly creates a tidal wave that flushes him down the drain and into a vast nocturnal world. The use of 3D also stands out from the glut of stereoscopically transferred big franchise films of late, and the world of minute everyday items becoming dangerous threats to the hero and his army of trained ants (yes really) playfully continues the Hollywood tradition of the sub genre that previously included the likes of The Incredible Shrinking Man, Innerspace and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
There is nothing particularly ground-breaking here, but the film takes an age-old premise, dresses it up with some impressive effects, throws a cool cast together and watches it go. The only real weakness is a one-dimensional and tepid villain, now a relatively regular trope of the Marvel cannon (a few notable exceptions aside). The other aspect which slightly lets down the film is the supposedly unrelated Avengers cropping up in any aspect, which is the kind of thing they did in the beginning but has SURELY been done to death by now. The added post-credits sequences are starting to feel so disconnected from the main action that they feel laboured, like a cheap marketing ploy rather than a clever and enticing element. Still, if you like your heroes less than pint-sized please step up and grab a ticket, and enjoy rooting for the little critters.
Ant-Man is out now in UK cinemas
Words> Roy Swansborough