Starring: Paul Rudd (This Is 40), Michael Douglas (Basic Instinct), Evangeline Lilly (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug), Corey Stoll (Non-Stop), Michael Peña (End of Watch), Bobby Cannavale (Blue Jasmine), Tip “T.I.” Harris (Identity Thief), David Dastmalchian (The Dark Knight), Judy Greer (Jurassic World)
Director: Peyton Reed (Bring It On)
Writers: Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz) & Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) and Adam McKay (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) & Paul Rudd (Role Models)
Runtime: 1 hour 57 minutes
Release Date: 17 July (US, UK)
Ant-Man has been a long time coming, having been first announced before even the first Iron Man was released with Edgar Wright at the helm. After a series of setbacks due to Marvel and Wright’s ever-changing schedules, the film finally went into production…just as Wright decided to leave over the oft-used reason of “creative differences”, leaving the film in the hands of Bring It On and Yes Man helmsman Peyton Reed; an odd choice, yes, but then again Captain America: The Winter Soldier was directed by the same guys who gave us You, Me & Dupree, so go figure. But behind-the-scenes drama shouldn’t matter. How’s the final product? In short: pretty damn good.
Getting the negative out the way quickly, the plot of Ant-Man is overly familiar as it’s essentially the same as the first Iron Man: tech genius builds awesome suit, protégé wants to use it as a weapon against genius’ wishes, causing action-packed hijinks to ensue. It’s not a cut-and-dry carbon copy, but the resemblance is noticeable and the story goes pretty much like you’d expect. However, strong characters and a whole lot of wit can always save a familiar story, and luckily Ant-Man has that in spades. It has an energetic pace throughout even the static second act, and it’s the film’s whip-smart sense of humour that keeps everything so tight and snappy. Though not an outright comedy, all of the gags (both visual and verbal) have been written and directed with expert timing and precision; Wright may not be director here, but his influence is clear in this department. Ant-Man also positions itself as a heist film, adding a unique flavour previously unseen in the MCU, using the tropes of the genre to create fun set pieces that take advantage of Ant-Man’s powers and also satirizes them for great comedic effect; these are the best parts of the film and I hope they get expanded upon should there be a standalone sequel. In regards to connections to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they are there but not pivotal. There are some small appearances by familiar characters, repercussions from previous films are felt and tiny details that may pay off later, but overall Ant-Man stands on its own two feet as a fun and entertaining action-adventure.
I don’t think anyone would immediately jump to Paul Rudd when they think of “action hero”, but he proves he’s got the chops as Scott Lang. But like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Pratt before him, Rudd’s personality really drives the film more than his ability to throw punches. However, I do feel his motivations could have received greater focus. The “deadbeat dad trying to reconnect with his kid” routine may be familiar territory, but we haven’t seen it yet in a superhero film and there are certainly some great opportunities there. However, the whole angle is hastily set-up and they don’t do nearly as much with it as they could; Lang only spends one scene with his daughter before becoming Ant-Man, and then he doesn’t see her again until the big climax. It relies too much on a past relationship the film doesn’t show us, and it ultimately means it doesn’t hit the heart the way you feel it should. It’s not a fault of Rudd, who’s clearly putting his all into the performance, but I feel there were some nuances missing in the writing of his character. Luckily, other than a somewhat wasted Corey Stoll playing the clichéd “evil scientist using technology for profit” as Darren Cross (he’s basically just the same character Jeff Bridges played in Iron Man), the supporting cast is full of fantastically written characters performed by equally brilliant actors. Michael Douglas’ performance as Hank Pym really nails the brilliant but off-kilter nature of the original character, and the way they handle his back story as the original Ant-Man is fantastic; now I really want Marvel to make an Agent Carter-like spin-off all about his adventures. Douglas’ connection with Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne is the real emotional core of the film, and Lilly herself proves to be a capable badass with strong potential for future stories. Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale don’t get much screen time, but it’s nice to see the estranged ex-wife and new husband characters not be played as total d-bags. But the real breakout star of the show is Michael Peña as Lang’s heist buddy Luis. His role is small, but every scene he’s in is guaranteed to make you laugh, and his chemistry with Rudd and fellow burglars T.I. and David Dastmalchian is through the roof. I won’t say anymore, but trust me: it’s some damn funny sh*t.
Shrinking isn’t a concept new to film, whether it be The Incredible Shrinking Man or Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, but I don’t think it’s ever been put to such imaginative and action-packed use as in Ant-Man. All of the action scenes involving the size-changing powers are what really makes the film so much fun. These scenes are fast-paced, wonderfully choreographed, and brought to life with a fantastic mixture of practical and visual effects; it’s great to see miniature photography isn’t dead yet, and hopefully this’ll keep it alive. The cinematography and production design doesn’t particularly stand out but does fits nicely into the overall Marvel aesthetic, whilst Christophe Beck’s score is a nice throwback to the music of 60s and 70s heist films; expect lots of trills and loud horns.
Ant-Man doesn’t change the wheel for superhero films, but it’s certainly a lot of fun and a welcome addition to the MCU. It’s a film that really takes advantage of its hero’s powers to full effect, and its great sense of humour makes it perfectly clear they know the premise is ludicrous and are just having fun with it. A lot of the core plot structuring and character beats may be played at this point, but it’s presented so well that it’s never too much of a problem. I don’t when Marvel would have time to do it in their packed schedule, but I’d love to see a direct sequel (or maybe even a prequel with Pym?) that can iron out the kinks and deliver another wacky heist adventure with these wonderful characters. But if Scott Lang just remains a roaming player of this ever-expanding universe, I’d be happy too. Just find a way to put more Michael Peña in somewhere, because there’s so much more to mine there.
FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10