Many fanboys wept the day we heard the news that writer/director/demigod Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) had left his passion project due to “creative differences” with Marvel Studios. Immediately our faith (and interest) in the project dissipated and we were quick to write off the whole experiment as Marvel’s first sure-fire failure.
Let it be known that despite Wright’s unfortunate departure, his DNA is still coursing through the veins of Marvel’s 12th feature and Ant-Man is yet another triumphant hit from a studio that is just oozing with confidence right now. Much like 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man is a light-weight, supremely likeable and hugely entertaining film that is often laugh-out-loud hilarious thanks to a charming and winning performance from lead Paul Rudd.
Scott Lang (Rudd) has lost much thanks to a life of burglary that helped land him in lockup. Now released, Lang’s sole purpose in life is to prove to his estranged ex-family that he can be the responsible and law-abiding citizen that his daughter needs him to be.
Enter Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly and a plot line that can only be described as Honey I Shrunk the Oceans 11. Let it be known that Ant-Man is a ridiculous concept, but after eleven films of gadgetry, godliness, super soldiers and space battles, believing that a man has the technology to manipulate atoms and control insects really isn’t that hard to buy into. Not anymore.
Douglas’ Hank Pym, who comic-book devotees would recognise as the original Ant-Man, fears the technology he created (a suit that uses subatomic particles to shrink the wearer to microscopic proportions) may fall into the wrong hands. Lang, seeking redemption (or heroism), agrees to become Pym’s protege and before long, he’s donning the funky retro Ant-Man costume and jumping through key holes and circuit boards.
Much like Winter Solider was shaped by 70’s political thrillers and Guardians of the Galaxy was a throwback to the great space operas, Ant-Man is Marvel’s first heist movie. And a hugely entertaining one at that too thanks to Pym’s wicked creation.
Ant-Man’s unique and visually impressive powers make for some refreshingly fun action, that shies away from the tediously repetitive levelling of entire cities. The script even pokes fun at the events of Age of Ultron’s destruction. The action is both superbly choreographed and exceptionally well directed. If you were a fan of the introductory Nightcrawler scene in X-Men 2, then you’re going to be in awe of the clever stunts and ingenious set pieces in this film.
The macro-photography combined with the excellent use of 3D technology also makes for some spectacular visuals that need to be seen on the big screen. Seeing Paul Rudd skip and jump across a DJ’s turn table and a fight on top of a floating iPhone is as cool as it sounds.
Director Peyton Reed has done the impossible. With a legion of haters ready to pounce, he’s been able to stamp his own directorial authority over the piece. There are comical nods to how Wright would have whip-panned in and out of scenes, but Reed has well and truly done his job ensuring that every scene is spry and engaging.
Reed’s casting, in particular, is just spot on. In one corner you have Michael Douglas lending his much needed gravitas and charisma to help audiences stomach the silly. In the other, we’re delighted to see a bad-ass Evangeline Lilly refusing to be a simple and boring love interest. Heck, even Michael Pena and his comic abilities are sure to win over the crowd as well. But this is Rudd’s show and he is, without question, the right Lang for the job. Yes, he’s essentially playing a ripped-version of Paul Rudd, but his dry humour and delivery is as note perfect as it is consistent throughout. I cannot wait to see him join the ever-expanding Avengers roster. He’s every bit as witty as Robert Downey Jnr’s Tony Stark, but doesn’t have half the arrogance or smugness.
The film isn’t perfect and it does unfortunately suffer from Marvel’s continued “villain complex”. While Corey Stoll has proven to be a wonderful actor in the past, his Darren Cross/Yellow Jacket character is simply not villainous enough for us to care about his agenda here. The film knows this too, and he’s given very little screen time. He’s required to make the finale more thrilling (and in that he delivers), but despite his best attempts, Cross never wavers beyond the confides of his stereotype.
Being the twelfth film, it seems odd to say this, but Ant-Man is a breath of fresh air for Marvel. It fits in seamlessly to the sacred and established Marvel canon, but it’s also a nice self-contained story. It’s a personal journey between fathers and children; mentors and students. The spectacular finale doesn’t end with seismic explosions either. It takes place in a little girl’s bedroom and involves Thomas the Tank Engine, and it’s easily one of my favourite set pieces out of any Marvel film to date.
I know that, myself included, many of us didn’t see this coming, but Ant-Man is an excellently realised and supremely enjoyable time at the cinema. Make sure you stay for the entirety of the credits as well. There are two stingers and both made me grin like a giddy little idiot.