This is the final in a series of blogs I’ve called “A Year of Unlimited”. I‘ll continue to write reviews but thought it would be better to round the year off with this and a forthcoming review article of the whole year and the experience (if you’re not too bored of my musings by now)!
First things first: if you don’t care about comic-book movies or Marvel stuff, or if you care more about the fact Edgar Wright (creator/director of Spaced, Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) was supposed to direct this before “creative differences” saw him leave than the film itself, this is not the review for you. If none of this applies, read on – Ant-Man is great!
Ant-Man has a title and premise that will (as with some people I know) make most people laugh derisively – followed by “not another comic-book movie”. Unfortunately or fortunately, these films are here to stay for the foreseeable future – and Marvel are dominating. Ant-Man is a great little addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, tying into the other movies (as all the films and shows are) but at the same time providing something different, fresh and fun (in other words, don’t expect a conclusion with a big battle in the sky as a city faces obliteration).
The brilliant Paul Rudd is Scott Lang, a low-life criminal released from jail and determined to change his ways so he can see his young daughter. Circumstances force the expert burglar to, well, burgle, but he ends up coming across a mysterious suit that shrinks the wearer to a microscopic size, and its creator, scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Pym and his estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) are concerned that Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), Pym’s unhinged former assistant and new CEO of his company, has discovered the same shrinking technology, and Lang is tasked with mastering the technology and saving the day before Cross utilises it for nefarious purposes.
The suit, the plot, the premise – it can all sound ridiculous to you as a viewer. But the film is great, and for those fans of the rest of Marvel’s work, this is a funny, quirky addition. Primarily a heist film, we’re presented with a new perspective on the hero in that Lang is a man trying to do the right thing for his kid, rather than being a virtuous or super-powered super-soldier/billionaire/demi-god with girl problems. He’s a flawed, normal bloke thrown into a wacky situation, and if you can suspend your disbelief about a superhero controlling ants and shrinking down to ant-size, you’ll enjoy yourself.
It’s about damn time someone gave Paul Rudd a leading role in something – the man is consistently hilarious and, as one film writer put it so brilliantly the other day, he’s just the latest in Marvel’s plan to “hire funny men, force them to do press-ups and create a new superhero”. Having written the script alongside Anchorman director Adam McKay, Rudd is great as the least likely superhero, though at times I wanted more of his humour and less of the exposition or drama he has to spout. Future films that will see him, Chris Pratt and Robert Downey Jr. quipping together should excite most movie or comedy fans!
Michael Douglas follows in Robert Redford’s footsteps and joins the Marvel gang, playing the inventor of the Pym Particle (the chemical that allows the suit to shrink), revelling in playing a sly old fool who nonetheless is fairly damaged, and knows redemption is beyond him even if it isn’t for Scott. I’d look forward to seeing him in other Marvel stuff (particularly after an early scene where the actor is stunningly de-aged – it’s remarkable, and could start a trend in other movies). Evangeline Lilly does her best in a role that’s more about set-up than it is substance, though she’s good enough when given a chance, and could be a strong female character in any future movies. She at least is not a damsel-in-distress, and you never really buy the initial ice queen nonsense before she actually shows she’s more than the usual female character.
Stoll’s villain role is quite quirky compared to Marvel’s usual pantomime levels of evil, with Cross a man determined to do something just because he feels so inadequate compared to Pym. From almost the first time you encounter him it’s clear he’s a few grapes short of a vine, and his mad professor-style experiments add to this – however, Marvel have still not managed to top Loki, and I worry that they might not ever do so. What’s the point of heroes if there’s no good villain to counteract them? Of the supporting cast, a super-cameo is unexpected and hovers between franchise support and cool (the action scene in particular), while Michael Pena’s Luis is perhaps the comedic centre of the whole film. His sleazy, eager attitude to crime and life (and the creative ways in which he recalls how he got information) give the film its best laughs, alongside fellow lackeys T.I. and David Dastmalchian.
Other support – coming from actors as diverse as Judy Greer (again playing a stock estranged wife character) and Bobby Cannavale (the stereotypical gruff, macho stepdad) – help to flesh out the plot, but at times the film felt like it could have been a bit deeper and given more time to certain situations. Lang’s little kid Cassie, played by Abby Ryder Fortson, is your stereotypical action movie child (read: plot device) but has a sweet sense of absolute faith in her dad and isn’t annoying.
Ant-Man’s effects are a great contrast to the usual city-smashing nonsense, giving us action on a small level that is often hilariously contrasted with its depiction from normal size. The final action scenes in particular are brilliant in this regard, while Lang and Pym’s innovative use of ants as sidekicks is both silly and clever – their skills in reality are utilised ingeniously in the film’s set pieces. Music- and looks-wise, the movie is more vibrant than its predecessors, and the setting in San Francisco is a welcome change from New York or another skyscraper-filled substitute.
Director Peyton Reed brings bounce and a clear sense of place to the plot, and – yes – while Edgar Wright was here first, and worked on it for years, and blah blah blah – it’s massively unfair that Reed’s achievement (this film was made by him in the last year, which is mad for blockbusters) is overshadowed by the guy who came before. I think he has a really interesting sense of how to shoot action, much like the John Wick () directors, and deserves the films others manage to ruin with incessant shaky-cam.
Ant-Man isn’t the best Marvel film – it zooms by too fast, and some of the jokes don’t work (surprisingly, given the writers) – but it offers a lot more than most action blockbusters farted out by design in the last few years. As long as Marvel keeps making these quirky movies alongside the Avengers juggernauts, people will still keep going to watch them.
(There are two scenes in the credits, so if you’re as into these films as me, stick around in the cinema!)