Director: Peyton Reed
Cast: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lily, Corey Stoll, Michael Pena, Bobby Cannavale, Abby Ryder Fortson
Plot: Hank Pym (Douglas) fears his formula has been recreated by his old apprentice (Stoll), so he hires an ex-con (Rudd) to steal his design.
I will let you in on a little secret. We critics hate Marvel Studios. Why? Well, by every movie law, we have made up in our heads, their game plan should be failing right now. They plan out all of their movies for the next three years, sucking the fun and suspense out of pre-production and they seem willing to stop making movies about the characters we want to see, instead focusing on talking raccoons no one has ever heard of. Half of the fun of the movies comes from in-jokes made on a television show or Marvel short films, only the hardcore fans have seen. By all rights, we should be condemning them. Every movie sees us critics rub our hands with glee at the prospect of finally writing that rare beast: a bad Marvel review that proves all of our predictions correct. Yet they never come. After the incredible Guardians of the Galaxy and Age of Ultron, Marvel’s biggest gamble yet, Feige goes with a little-known hero, fills it with comedy and goes with routine rather than changing the game up. It shouldn’t work. Yet rather annoyingly, I find myself writing another glowing review of a Marvel movie.
Okay, fine, it’s going to be no one’s idea of a perfect movie. Ant-Man was always going to suffer from a severe case of being that average movie. Despite the gags, impressive CGI and unique takes on the fight scenes (if you thought the joke in the trailer about the toy train set was funny, wait until you’ve seen the whole, glorious thing), it is yet another origin story. There are no shocks in terms of narrative waiting for the viewer. It is also struggling from the fact it is competing with the film that never was. Edgar Wright directing a Marvel movie might be one of the biggest missed opportunities in cinematic history. I am sure his idea of comedy would have been a sight better than Michael Pena’s Hispanic stock character you might remember from almost every other Michael Pena movie. However, Ant-Man is still a very good entry from Marvel, almost happy to finally get a chance to play things straight for a change. There is no need to think totally outside the box with Winter Soldier or change everything you thought you knew about the superhero genre with Guardians of the Galaxy. Ant-Man simply enjoys being a superhero movie. And it is here where Reed has fun playing with his set-pieces. The CGI is top notch, as Scott Lang, our hero of the hour, shrinks to miniature size and battles his way through a bath of swirling water. The ants are good fun too, each species of ants given their own characteristics and charms. One gag near the end will have you almost craving your own pet ant. There is no need to rush to the cinemas and see Ant-Man, but by removing the urgency that every other Marvel movie seems to carry with it, it becomes a more relaxed and enjoyable experience.
Paul Rudd is a surprisingly good choice of lead. As we delve into what Ant-Man can and can’t do, we begin to see the slight problem that perhaps Lang might suffer from being ‘too good’ a hero. He can shrink to a size that makes him almost impossible to see (or hit with a bullet), yet retains the strength to punch an enemy through a wall A fight with another Avenger (no, it’s not the Avenger cameo you want to see, but it does its job), affirms this fear. Perhaps Ant-Man might suffer from Clark Kent’s problem of being so good a hero that anyone who cannot also shrink himself down hasn’t got a chance of taking him down, which, in return, negates the entertainment factor of the story. This is where Paul Rudd’s innocent thief turned hero comes into play. He isn’t your average hero, lacking the fighting prowess of Black Widow or the strength of Steve Rogers. He is just a guy who wants to do right by his daughter and redeem his past of crimes. Finally, we are given a lead hero that we can squint and see ourselves, or at least an everyday bloke, in. Lang has these amazing powers, but he has no idea how he is using them. When diehard fans look back over this film and pick out the ‘why didn’t he just use that gadget’ plot holes, we can happily answer with: “the guy probably was so scared out of his mind that it never occurred to him to try that!” It brings something new to Ant-Man, coupled with Paul Rudd’s natural charm that gives the slow origin movie build-up the advantage of having the same thrills of a Judd Apatow vehicle. Like Pratt’s Starlord, a lead character that isn’t afraid to be the butt of a lot of the jokes helps keep Marvel as watchable as ever.
The rest of the cast are also very good. Michael Douglas is, of course, one of the stars of the show. He might be lumped with the stock mentor role, but it definitely helps having an actor of his prowess. A speech that seems thrown together is given meaning by his rumbling voice and inner emotion. His family’s dark secret seems less clichéd and more prominent when uttered by a distraught Michael Douglas. Evangeline Lily almost struggles to keep up out of the three. She is the kickass female hero we want to see more of in cinema, but she seems a little held back by that title. There were several little moments that took me out of her backstory, because instead of being allowed to explore her character’s emotions, she was asked to be ‘cool’. Yes, she was very good and these small beats only cropped up occasionally (the post-credits scene, for example), but they hint towards a larger problem in the future of Marvel movies. We’ve done the awesome Black Widow character – let’s move on! Corey Stoll might be villain 101, but he miles better than Marvel’s usual offerings, Ronan and Malkeith being the main culprits. We can see that he thinks of himself as the hero of the story, so sure that he is saving the world by going public with this dangerous technology that it is only the small acts of cruelty that make him unlikeable as a character. Stoll handles the meaty bad guy bits well, maybe taking a cue from his House of Cards co-star (Kevin Spacey: you might have heard of him.) So who is the best character of the lot? The amusing hero, the meaty villain or the powerhouse Michael Douglas? Well, my vote is going to go with Abby Ryder Fortson, who plays the cutest little girl in cinema for the last ten years. She has a few scenes, but she shines in every one of them, melting your heart and channelling most of the emotion in the movie. Whenever Paul Rudd mentions her, you know exactly how much fighting for his daughter is worth.
Final Verdict: A filler entry for Marvel, but it still serves as an entertaining CGI action. In fact, it is nice to have laidback Marvel for a change.