DIR: Peyton Reed • WRI: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd • PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: Russell Carpenter • ED: Dan Lebental, Colby Parker Jr. DES: Shepherd Frankel, Marcus Rowland • MUS: Christophe Beck • CAST: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Hayley Atwell
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a well-to-do burglar who has finished serving his time. Now he wants to reconnect with his daughter but his inability to pay child support puts up an immediate roadblock. Having vowed never to return to prison, Scott attempts to go straight but finds it impossible to get a job with his criminal history. Reluctantly, he agrees to a ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ heist but ends up with nothing to show for it but a strange suit and helmet that exhibits unusual properties. Meanwhile, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is a reclusive scientist who created a weapon back in the Cold War days that proved effective but which he kept to himself due to his distrust of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the devastating potential of the weapon if it fell into the wrong hands. However, in the present, Pym’s former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is close to perfecting his own version of Pym’s Ant-Man program in the form of Yellowjacket; a miniaturised suit of power armour he fully intends to sell to the highest bidder. Fearing the chaos this could bring on a global scale, Pym, along with his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), recruit Scott to pull off the heist of his career but with one ‘small’ twist…
With the departure of Wright and Cornish from the production, it seems like most people just decided this was going to be Marvel’s first big failure. And, personally speaking, going in with those diminished expectations made the surprise of just how fun this movie is all the more enjoyable to experience. Make no mistake, this movie still has ‘damage control’ written all over it. From an opening prologue that exists almost solely to remind you of previous movies by briefly bringing back Hayley Atwell’s Peggy Carter and John Slattery’s Howard Stark, to a hugely enjoyable but entirely extraneous Avengers detour halfway through the movie, you can almost see the studio notes on-screen demanding more fan-service in an attempt to placate those who only came to throw stones at the lack of Wright/Cornish-ness. Add in the heavy emphasis on (largely ad-libbed by the looks of it) comedy and you can tell they really want this to be this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy. It would be genuinely surprising if this manages to do anywhere near Guardians business but in terms of entertainment and tone, it’s pretty much on par.
There is a lot to like here. Rudd is a compelling lead and lots of fun, Lilly is solid and Douglas is clearly really enjoying himself. Stoll is the only real weak-link but a sub-par villain in a Marvel movie is at this point neither surprising nor much of an issue. In a reverse of the usual Marvel problem, Ant-Man actually starts off a bit weak and only gets stronger as it goes on. The final act is both dramatically and comedically the peak of the film. Meanwhile, the first chunk of the movie, while consistently funny, feels in desperate need of tightening up. Basically, once the heists and montages get going, the film only goes from strength to strength but getting there can feel like a bit of a chore. Speaking of montages, the visualisations of Michael Peña’s labyrinthine descriptions of how he attained ‘x’ piece of information are both the best thing in the film and laugh-out-loud funny. It’s a real pity there aren’t a couple more of them.
In terms of everything else, there’s not much to comment on. Reed’s direction is adequate but can’t hope to live up to the now never-to-be-realised potential that Wright’s gleefully frenetic style could have wrought. (That said, there is a great sequence near the end with some distinctly trippy visuals, it’s only a pity Reed doesn’t go that far more often.) Christophe Beck’s score goes largely unnoticed but the credits showcase a fun main theme and his frequent throwback pieces of old-fashioned caper music are enjoyable. There are clear attempts to ape Guardians’ use of licensed tracks and while it never reaches that level, there are a couple of fun sequences in that regard. The supporting cast are almost all fine. It is, however, very annoying to see yet another movie in as many months where Judy Greer is playing the mother of a plot-centric child and is ultimately given nothing to do. But now I’m just nitpicking.
While Marvel has somehow managed to (yet again) maintain their winning streak, this is the year the cracks start to show. Age of Ultron was little more than a very enjoyable, perfectly produced but entirely disposable fireworks display. Now we have Ant-Man which looks for all the world like Marvel trying to recapture the Guardians magic for a second time. While it lacks the consistent freshness that film displayed, there is a lot of good in this film overall. It’s also hugely refreshing to see a Marvel movie with such a noticeably small scale (pun very much intended). No cities get destroyed (only a single building explodes!), the world is never in immediate danger and the overall death toll is very conservative by blockbuster standards (it could even be in the single digits, on reflection). Any film in which the big final battle takes place in a child’s bedroom with the hero and villain fighting with a trainset deserves a lot of credit in our current climate of summer movies with a fetish for genocide, one city at a time.
While the final film is a tad more forgettable than it could have been in its original creators’ hands, there’s no denying this is one of the better comedies of the year, a decent action film, a fun caper and yet another name to add to the list of niche-appeal characters Marvel somehow managed to make good, crowd-pleasing films out of. Now, where’s my damn Hawkeye movie/Netflix miniseries, Marvel?
12A (See IFCO for details)