Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

"Ant-Man’s weirdness and goofy tangents mean that it’s definitely on its way to alleviating the fatigue of the larger pictures."

We’re a dozen films into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the Superhero behemoth shows few signs of taking its spandexed foot off the gas. Apart from the application of the Marvel sheen, a gloss that’s so heavy it threatens to suffocate any attempts directors make aat putting their stamp on a film, the only constant appears to be the lack of any significant stakes. Cities fall, and the globe is threatened again and again, but no-one is truly at risk. Ant-Man is tasked with leading us into the next phase of these films, and by now the exhaustive scale is wearing a bit thin. Why does it matter if cities fall, when characters can’t so much as receive a troubling wound? How do you solve a problem like Mild Peril?

The obvious solution seems to be to scale everything back. Ant-Man stars the ever amiable Paul Rudd as the charismatic Scott Lang, framed as a kind of Robin Hood for the millennials. He gets out of a jail for a white collar crime that saw him generously handing back millions to a public that had been cheated out of them by a faceless corporation, and so he occupies the familiar shade of grey of a thief with a heart of gold. It’s not enough to let his wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and her new police officer squeeze (Bobby Cannavale) let him see his daughter, but at least we’re on his side. It’s a change of pace from the Playboys and Gods of The Avengers, and it's a human element that helps frame the film. Rudd doesn’t quite get to be the wisecracking Lang of the comics, but he’s got enough fizz to ensure he’s more watchable than a slab of muscle with a furrowed brow.

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Scott is forced back into a life of crime by a desire to see his daughter. He wants redemption because it’s a key turning point for all superheroes, and Marvel’s hook for origin stories it seems. There’s no fridging of a relative or friend for motivation here (at least in Lang’s tale), which makes it easier to tolerate, but it’s still a fairly obvious route to take. He’s hooked by a tip from his friend, Luis, played to motor-mouthed irascible perfection by Michael Peña. He leads the group of petty crooks who tip him onto a new job, but Peña does such a sterling job of stealing every scene he’s in with his blend of awkward street cool that you’ll forget the rest of the group. His rambling spiels are highlights, and outside of the visual and kinetic comedy that the action scenes provide, he’s the lynchpin that keeps the laughs flowing. Less impressive is Kurt, the hacker of the group, a dire Eastern European caricature who surely doesn’t have any place in a 2015 film by the biggest company in the world. When he declares Ant-Man’s shrinking “the work of gypsies” it feels like a pitifully weak joke in a script that actually manages to make decent stabs at its characterisation of anyone who isn’t a white guy.

And shrinking is the name of the game here, because it’s the utility of Ant-Man’s suit that allows for this film to deviate from the city flooring, alien swatting, gung ho action of the rest of the Marvel stable. It pares things down to a scale reminiscent of Spider-Man, and the suit's powers are as versatile as the webslinger's. It’s all the work of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a man who discovered a particle that allowed him to change the distance between atoms whilst retaining density, which is Marvel science speak for “the man in the suit can still hit really hard and survive big drops when he’s small”.

His protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) takes up the role of villain, because Pym refused to share his genius with him, and so he’s trying to get his own back by… going mad and weaponising the technology. He has his own Wasp themed “Yellowjacket” suit, and an unstable shrinking formula that turns people into wobbling lumps of snot. Pym needs redemption (there’s that word again) after hanging up the suit once he was rubbed out of Cold War glory and losing his wife, and his plan is to use Lang to destroy the Yellowjacket and the experimental particle lest Cross manufacture thousands of the suits and change the face of global warfare forever. A veritable buy one get one free of redemption it seems.

Despite the troubled development of the film, and the loss of Edgar Wright as director, there’s still a lot to enjoy here, even if you’re bored by the MCU. The action is more inventive, and although it would have been brilliant to see Wright’s unique take on the world of Ant-Man, it doesn’t seem fair to frame the whole film as “what could have been” because what we get is exciting enough. Lang has an absurd training montage where he learns how to control ants telepathically, and get shown how to throw a punch by Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) as he vies for the right to wear the suit and lead the heist. Special mention should be made of Lily, as she carries her role incredibly well, with a bob that threatens to steal the whole show, and it’s clear that she’s got potential beyond even Lang. It’s a shame she’s eventually kept out of the danger because of the old ‘dad protecting his daughter’ trope, but there are hints of greater things for Hope Pym in the future to reconcile that somewhat.

The eventual heist and inevitable combat sequence with the Yellowjacket is a great visual treat, with the pair's scalable powers ensuring that the ensuing chaos is always more inventive than buildings being blown up - though rest assured there’s still a sizeable amount of property damage on show. The final showdown, in particular, is full of grin-inducing moments which I don’t want to spoil, but they definitely feel like they’ve come from the pen of Cornish and Wright. The juxtaposition between the epic miniature battle and the reality of the drama from the human scale never ceases to raise a smile, and there’s a kinetic, almost slapstick feel to the final sequence which helps it feel more in line with the kitsch of Guardians Of The Galaxy than the pomp of Captain America or Iron Man.

Ant-Man’s weirdness and goofy tangents mean that it’s definitely on its way to alleviating the fatigue of the larger pictures, but it does feel like Marvel are only willing to risk such inventiveness on the lesser known characters. It’s still hamstrung by forced exposition and foreshadowing so clunky they might as well hold up flash cards that say “this is the risk he’ll have to take to beat the bad guy”, but overall it’s a welcome departure from the weary bombast found elsewhere. For those already worn down by the onslaught of glossy, no stakes action, this might offer a slight reprieve, but as with Guardians there was an opportunity to tear down the rules and create something truly dazzling. Instead, the suffocating Marvel sheen has another director straining to free himself from the manufactured thrills.

Reviewed on: 09 Jul 2015
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A con man with the power to decrease in size and increase in strength must pull off a daring heist in order to save the world.
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Director: Peyton Reed

Writer: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish

Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Abby Ryder Fortson, Michael Peña

Year: 2015

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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