Ant-Man

Posted: August 14, 2015 in Film reviews

Directed by Peyton Reed. Starring Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly.

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In 1989 Hank Pym (Douglas) quits S.H.I.E.L.D when they try to replicate his Ant-Man shrinking formula. Some years later he is forced out of his own company by his protégé Darren Cross (The Strain’s Corey Stoll) and his estranged daughter Hope (Lilly). Eventually Lilly comes to realise that Cross is dangerous, especially once he develops a shrinking suit/formula of his own called the Yellowjacket, and Hope resolves to help her father. He refuses to let her wear the Ant-Man suit however, and identifies another person as the one to take on the Ant-Man mantle.

That person is Scott Lang (Rudd) a brilliant engineer turned thief who’s just been released from prison after serving time for hacking into an unethical corporation’s computer systems. Lang desperately wants to go straight so that he can gain visitation rights to his daughter Cassie, which his ex-wife and her cop fiancé won’t agree to until he can start paying his overdue child support. Unfortunately Lang’s record means he can’t get a job. In desperation he agrees to help his old cellmate Luis (Michael Peña) burgle the home of a millionaire.

Of course the millionaire is Hank Pym, and though neither Lang nor Luis realise it, the burglary is actually an audition, one that will see Lang offered the chance to really earn his daughter’s love, if he survives…

And so Ant-Man arrives on the crest of a somewhat inauspicious wave. For starters this is a film that lost its director Edgar Wright over ‘creative differences’, and which saw its original script by Wright and (Adam and) Joe Cornish tinkered with by a new screenwriter and Paul Rudd. This is also a film that, pardon the pun, operates on a smaller scale than pretty much every other film in the Marvel canon. There are no jaw dropping epic battles here, in fact the finale plays out in a child’s bedroom. It could also be said that Ant-Man isn’t a hero to resonate with the public (comic books fans aside).

Refreshingly none of these things stop Ant-Man from being a thoroughly enjoyable film, in fact the (warning incoming pun again) smaller scale actually makes for a refreshing change of pace from most Marvel flicks, and the battle to keep a little girl safe probably resonates more than, say, the battle to stop a mad robot dropping a city from a great height, and the climactic battle allows for some wonderfully surreal moments (quite a few involving Thomas the Tank Engine) and the film even manages to venture briefly into existential 2001 territory at one point.

I’m not sure if we’ll ever know exactly why Wright departed, or what changes were made to the script. Perhaps Wright’s version would have been more anarchic and more original, or maybe the changes salvaged what could have been a commercial disaster for Marvel. All I can critique is the version that made it to the screen.

The biggest (sorry) weakness of the film is the plot, which is pretty by the numbers. Man wants second chance, man wants to make his daughter proud of him, man gets to do both. Nothing that happens is a particular surprise, in fact given how much foreshadowing certain plot points are given it would have been a shock if we hadn’t seen them eventually materialise and there are several very obvious Chekov’s guns here. Thankfully the thin plot is offset by a funny script, a nice cast and some neat miniaturisation effects.

Paul Rudd always makes for an engaging screen presence and he performs lead duties well as a man trying to do right but finding only bad choices, his experience in comedy helps with the lighter elements of the film, but he’s a good enough actor that he can input heft when needed. Douglas makes for an amiable mentor, and the scenes of him de-aged early on are spooky to say the least. He bounces well off both Rudd and Lilly who, one somewhat overly emotive scene apart, believably essays a woman who both hates and loves her father simultaneously. This is very much a film about fathers and daughters, and the little girl who plays Cassie is also very good.

As Cross Stoll is perhaps a little one note, Cross is so clearly insane that you’re surprised no one else seems to notice it, as one note performances go however Stoll puts his all into it and is both physically and emotionally imposing making him an effective bad guy.

Michael Peña almost steals the film out from under everyone however, with a wonderful comic turn as Luis and it’s nice to know he’s signed up for future films.

If the film has one glaring problem it is that clearly Hope should be Ant-Man (er, Ant-Woman?) given that—before an amusing training montage at least—she’s clearly a way better candidate for the job than Lang. The film gives Pym a reason for refusing her request but, given the dearth of good female onscreen superheroes, it still feels like a missed opportunity. No spoilers but a scene midway through the credits offers some hope in this regard (there’s also an end of credits scene if you want to wait that long!)

With a lighter tone and a less epic feel than most Marvel entries this might have fallen flat, but inventive set pieces and good casting save the day as surely as Ant-Man. It’s funny and exciting, and whilst it may be going a bit far to say I loved it, I certainly liked it a lot.

Don’t squash this bug of a movie!

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Comments
  1. Hmm. I’m not fond of plots that tug at parental heartstrings, not being a parent myself, so I expect I’d find that aspect really annoying. I do like Marvel films, though.

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