Directed by: Peyton Reed
Written by: Adam McKay, Edgar Wright, Jack Kirby, Joe Cornish, Larry Lieber, Paul Rudd, Stan Lee
Starring: Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Paul Rudd
IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 117 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In 1989, the original Ant-Man Hank Pym tenders his resignation to S.H.I.E.L.D. after a mission which resulted in the loss of his wife and discovering that S.H.I.E.L.D. attempted to duplicate his shrinking technology that makes Ant-Man possible. In the present day, former systems engineer and petty criminal Scott Lang has been released from prison after serving three years for stealing from his former employer, to find his ex-wife is now married to a cop. He rejoins his old gang, and they organise a robbery into the house of Hank’s house. He finds nothing but an old suit which he carries home. He tries on the suit and accidentally presses a button that makes him shrink himself….
The Marvel juggernaut carries on with their latest effort Ant-Man, which is actually a project which began life back in 1988 but wasn’t made back then because Honey, I Shrunk The Kids was being developed and ultimately shot [to great success]. Since 2000 an Ant-Man movie has constantly been in development, with various screenplays written by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish and Wright intending to direct, but we all know that Wright was eventually replaced as director and the final script extensively written. The result is, once again, a Marvel picture that shows great promise but is held back by the almost suffocatingly bland house style, the studio’s reluctance to take any real risks despite their films beginning to encapsulate different genres, and the obsessive impulse to link every film with stuff that’s happened elsewhere in the Marvel Universe and will happen in the future. Taken within the limitations that has been set for it though, Ant-Man is certainly a highly entertaining effort and definitely an improvement on the somewhat awkward, messy Avengers: Age Of Ultron. Mostly light-hearted in tone, I guess it’s closest to Guardians Of The Galaxy tonally, though it’s pretty much the same origin story we’ve seen many times elsewhere, but with some fun embellishments, even if while watching it you could pretty much write the script yourself after the first half an hour.
The opening scene introduces Hank Pym mourning his wife’s death, and one thing that struck me here is how good the CGI is that is used to make Michael Douglas looks younger. If you didn’t know it, you would think that the actor really is that age. No time wasting around in 1989 though, and we switch to the present day and one of the most interesting of Marvel’s protagonists….or rather he would be if he wasn’t played by Paul Rudd, who just fails to give the character much weight. At its core, Ant-Man is a film about a failure of a father who wants to prove himself to his daughter, and there are some surprisingly touching scenes centred around this situation, but Rudd just doesn’t convince as Scott Lang and fails to convey his emotions. He’s fine in the more fantastical, action orientated and comical parts of the movie though, so it’s not a total failure of a performance. Anyway, the script does just about make you feel for this guy who, just out of prison, can’t hold down a job because of his record and wants to prove himself to his daughter, who, as his ex-wife tells him, thinks that he’s: “her hero – so just be the person she already thinks you are”. There are some nice nuances in these scenes, like the cop husband clearly having a great bond with the daughter and telling her what to do in front of her father. Then the film introduces another father/daughter relationship when we rejoin Hank. He’s tormented by the fact that he seems to have failed his daughter Hope, while Hope resents the fact that her father became aloof after the death of his wife and her mother when she died under mysterious circumstances when Hope was seven years old.
Yep, there’s quite a bit of soapy stuff here, but it’s a nice change from the usual Marvel ‘issues’ and is sometimes better handled than the familiar stuff about special suits, people wanting to use special technology for nefarious purposes, and all the other mouldy cliches the story employs despite large sections of it being basically a heist movie. Ant-Man does take the time to gradually build up its story and hold off on the action for quite a while, though it relies too much on the device of having someone say they won’t do or accept something, only for the next cut to reveal the complete opposite. Eventually Scott finds and tries on the Ant-Man suit, and the scenes of him having to contend with everything from water to the possibility of being stepped on are some of the film’s highlights. Things then get increasingly goofy as ants become a more and more prominent feature in the story, but the sequences of Scott flying around on a queen ant, often done with as few cuts as possible, are really quite exhilarating and recaptured for me some of the thrill at seeing Spiderman first swing around on the cinema screen [though I personally would have found these moments well nigh unbearable in 3D].
Ant-Man for me though only really had the courage of its convictions towards the end when the action becomes really off the wall – put it this way, you won’t ever look at Thomas The Tank Engine the same way again – and provides some surprisingly abstract visuals for a riff on, and even slight development of, The Incredible Shrinking Man in a film which is deliberately informed by various shrinking people movies [though there aren’t that many]. Many people, including HCF’s own Matt Wavish, loved Guardians Of The Galaxy, but I felt that I had been led to see a far more inventive and ‘out there’ picture than I eventually saw, and that the result, while undeniably entertaining, was a little bland and often held back from being the movie it could have been. The firm hand of Kevin Feige also seems to limit Ant-Man from being all it could be [funny considering the primary theme of the film], but there are still moments when it does soar. The effects, bar the odd detail like an awful tank [though the scene it’s in is a big laugh so it doesn’t matter too much if it doesn’t convince], are top grade and director Peyton Reed really has a knack for action [you can see what’s going on and don’t feel sick watching it], but aside from a few moments like two occasions when information gathered from lots of people about a potential robbery target is related to Scott, Reed doesn’t bring [or isn’t allowed to bring] much of the surprising style he brought to Down With Love.
There’s been much debate as to whether Ant-Man would have been a better movie with Wright in the director’s chair and without the alterations to the script. Considering that Wright to my eyes is one of the most erratic filmmakers out there [one very good film, one good film, one average film and one totally abysmal film, though not quite in that order], I can’t say I have a strong opinion on this issue one way or another, though considering that it had been a pet project of Wright’s for so long, it would have been nice for him to have been able to see it through. I do think that the film may have been funnier – the laughs do tend to fall flat or just not work as well as they should – and I assume that Wright and Cornish’s main villain wouldn’t have been so bland, though Marvel really does seem to be having a problem with its villains, which are disappointingly dull and uninteresting, or if they are interesting then not enough is done with them. Sometimes a good villain is more important than a good hero!
Michael Douglas still has that old charisma but Evangeline Lilly has little to do and Michael Pena’s role as Scott’s best friend clearly came across as funnier on paper than it now does on screen. Christophe Beck’s score is a considerable improvement on his boring effort for Edge Of Tomorrow and even has a decent main theme [and is that woodwinds I hear…in a modern ‘blockbuster’ score?!]. It makes sitting through the end titles to see the pointless, lazy two end-credits scenes reasonably bearable. I’m possibly being a bit too hard on Ant-Man because it does entertain throughout and succeeds in pulling some unusual and difficult things, like its climax being in a little girl’s bedroom, when it has the courage to be different. I know I’m being too hard on Marvel generally, and that some of my criticism of them is due to them making so many bloody films [and more]. But, if we’re supposed to be more open minded folk these days, why can’t this translate to cinema [which in my opinion is not in a good place right now] so that the same brand, and variations on that brand, doesn’t appear to be so dominant, and why can’t the purveyors of that brand do more with the huge amount of source material at their disposal?