Upon seeing the finished project here, with the reins taken over by incoming director Peyton Reed (once tipped for the Guardians of the Galaxy helm), and the script re-written by star Paul Rudd alongside bratpack wunderkind Adam McKay (he who directed the Anchorman dichotomy)… all fears should and will be put to rest.
For the first school, it’s a welcome sigh of relief. Any dread at the loss of auteur-ship suffered by the departure of Edgar Wright, the feeling that we truly missed out on something special… Well, we simply got a different kind of special. Ant-Man is the first film in the Marvel canon that is not only a comedy first and foremost but also arguably the most human of all 11 films so far. For the second school of thought, it’s just another reason to trust the Marvel brand, and their own instincts.
The plot, in what feels like authentic Marvel fashion (even though we’ve never seen this kind of story on celluloid before) follows recent ex-con Scott Lang (Rudd) as he goes about trying to find employment and gain visitation rights to his young daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). Seeing little progress in the way of legit work, he soon turns to his old cell-y Michael Pena, who gives him the rundown on a score regarding an old man with a safe in his basement. This inevitably leads to his discovery of the Ant-Man suit in that same basement, which allows him to decrease to the size of an Ant whilst increasing his strength; further to this, he meets said old man – a retired inventor by the name of Hank Pym (Douglas), who wants to prevent his protégé Darren Cross (Stoll) from militarising his Ant-Man tech.
Assisted by resentful daughter Hope (Lily), rightfully bitter about the mysterious death of her mother Janet (not pictured), Pym recruits Lang to steal Cross’ tech using the Ant-Man suit to prevent it falling into the wrong hands. So begins the heist movie aesthetic long lauded since 2006, when Edgar Wright had the idea kicking around his skull. How little or how much of his original vision is up for debate; ultimately, it’s a moot point. This is the film we have, and it’s entertaining as hell.
The heart of the movie comes from the dual father-daughter relationships; Paul Rudd, in full-on happy-go-lucky earnest mode, is simply a guy trying to see his daughter, criminal record firmly regrettable. Imprisoned for a Robin Hood-style cat burglary in the first place, our sympathies are immediately with him.
Michael Douglas, face permanently full of regret for the loss of his wife within the context of the film, has his own issues with on-screen daughter Evangeline Lily. Every single performance within the film is earned, and lived-in, and fleshed-out just enough to make us care – before we all move onto the next blockbuster. And that is no easy feat. Paul Rudd disappears into Scott Lang, as does Douglas with Pym – and Evangeline Lily is so far from ‘the Numbers’ and ‘the One Ring’ that you’d be forgiven for thinking this is a breakout role for her.
Once again, as far as Marvel goes, the continual letdown is the villain; aside from a spurned-protégé vibe crossed with “the-serum-makes-him-crazy!” subplot, Corey Stoll is wasted here – almost vitally. A great character actor finding his feet in today’s Hollywood, Stoll was the third most intriguing casting of the project – the paper-thin writing lets his character down, but he still sells the duality of loathing (both self- and otherwise) to the point of being an enjoyable, and most importantly – dangerous, villain.
The real MVP in this departure from Marvel’s preferred bread and butter (read also: established, somewhat well-known characters) is Michael Pena. As Lang’s criminal associate and actual friend, not just some bad influence or minute distraction, Pena excels. This reviewer personally had no idea the guy could even go comedic, seeing as this is the man whose claim to fame is being lauded for his emotional performance in 2005 Oscar-bait Crash. Pena is simply the funniest character on scene, continuously stealing focus from the main parts; his constantly-cheery performance is actually based on a real-life ex-con he knows, a great tidbit to know when watching him in Ant-Man.
All in all, this latest Marvel Cinematic Universe offering is just balls-out fun. Great script, hilarious, engaging and emotional performances, a sense that it slots just-right Goldilocks-style into the MCU continuity, crazy and belief-suspending CGI, real heart… it’s just a tight 117 minutes to spend in the cinema during the summer blockbuster season. It’s this year’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Just… just go see it.
Review by Dan Woburn
[SRA value=”4″ type=”BIG”]
Have a read of Carol Allen’s take on Ant-Man.
This latest Marvel Avengers comic book caper has all the elements to please the fans. Lots of action and impressive special effects, enhanced by 3D and the cute and very likeable Paul Rudd playing the title character.
The original Ant Man, first introduced in comic form in 1962 was one Hank Pym, who discovered the “Pym Particle”, which allowed him to shrink himself to the size of an ant and possess superhuman strength. By 2015 Hank (Douglas) has grown a bit old for such capers. He’s trained up a second in command Darren Cross (Stoll), but Darren has turned rogue, taken over Pym’s company and the Pym Particle but can’t quite get it to work, but when he does, he plans to sell it to the bad guys, embodied by Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan). So Hank needs a new protégé and the man he chooses for the job is master thief Scott Lang (Rudd), who reluctantly takes on the mantle of super hero. Much to the chagrin of Hank’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who rather fancies the job for herself.
The film takes its time setting up the characters and their background but once it gets into the action, things take off, when Scott first tries on the Ant Man suit in the bathroom and in his shrunken form faces a tsunami from the bath tap. Hank has now developed another asset in the Pym Particle repertoire – the ability to control armies of ants – so once he’s got Scott trained up in this particular skill, our hero gets to hang out with ants a lot too. You’ll believe a man can fly – when he has a flying ant as his trusty steed.
Director Peyton Reed and the film’s writers, who include Brits Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, have a lot of fun with the concept. A particularly good sequence is Scott and Darren in his alter ego of nasty super ant man Yellowjacket having one of those traditional fights on a moving train – only the train is a toy one in the nursery of Scott’s little girl and is pulled by Thomas the Tank Engine. There are some witticisms at the expense of Douglas’s advancing age (about which the actor doesn’t always look too thrilled) and an impressive supporting cast, which also includes Bobby Cannavale as the new partner of Scott’s ex-wife and Michael Peña as one of his criminal cronies, who has such a strong Hispanic accent we Brits might well struggle to understand what he’s saying.
The film’s producers claim that “audiences don’t have to be that familiar with the characters to embrace them”. I would however challenge that. If you’ve never encountered any of the Avengers characters and their movies before – for quick reference they include Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and The Incredible Hulk – you might, like actress Lilly admits she had to do when she was offered the role of Hope, need to mug up a bit on the background before tackling this one. But then, if you have to do that, you’re probably not the audience for whom this film is intended. As Miss Jean Brodie once said: “For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like”. And like it, indeed love it, they will.
Review by Carol Allen