This latest introduction into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is clumsily linked to goings-on elsewhere by a brief mention of the events depicted at the end of Avengers: Age Of Ultron, a post-credits scene that has presumably been lifted from an upcoming Marvel ‘Phase Three’ release and the underwhelming appearance of a minor character who appeared in last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The pressure to slot new stories or characters into forthcoming movies is beginning to tell, and it’s a chore that isn’t currently being tackled with any outstanding creativity by the various writers and directors working on these films; naturally we can expect even more of this convoluted business as Marvel tries to find room for the likes of Doctor Strange, Black Panther and Captain Marvel, each of which is the subject of a standalone film in the next three years, and there’s also a Spider-Man reboot to factor in.
On to matters at hand. The superhero thrills n’ spills shift temporarily from the US’s east coast to west in this formulaic, inoffensive and light-hearted film. Paul Rudd stars as Scott Lang (aka the titular hero), an ex-con who is absolved from an earlier unseen white collar crime by the overly-apologetic screenplay, which takes the easy way out by painting him as a modern day Robin Hood (while we’re at it, even though only a fool would look to Marvel’s comic book adaptations for doses of gritty realism, what’s with the depiction of the inmates of San Quentin as a bunch of friendly, completely agreeable chaps?)
Lang’s motivation when committing further crimes with ex-cellmate Michael Peña is not wanton greed, like most people, but a more wholesome desire to pay child support so that he can continue seeing his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). His skill as a cat burglar leads him to Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a scientist and former S.H.I.E.L.D agent who once invented an incredible shrinking suit. And thus under the tutelage of Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) Lang becomes Ant-Man, a hero who can shrink to the size of an ant and is able to command forces of like-minded insects.
Though it’s nothing new, the best moments of Peyton Reed’s film come when Lang is tiny and attempting to negotiate the world from an ant’s perspective: it’s full of unexpected hazards, as per Fantastic Voyage, Innerspace, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids et al, though the comic-book character created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby predates all of those films. Thus rodents become huge, fearsome monsters and objects as innocuous as a record player stylus are suddenly life-threatening, while the shrunken size allows Lang to perform feats of heroic endeavor and reach areas that are otherwise off-limits to normal-sized humans. In the film’s highly enjoyable and amusing finale Ant-Man and his nemesis Yellowjacket (aka corporate villain Darren Cross, played by Corey Stoll) even duke it out on and around a Thomas The Tank Engine train set, with a few size-related gags hitting the mark.
The main problem is that we’ve seen so many origin tales in recent years that to truly stand out each new entry into this bloated, gargantuan world needs something else: a dose of the x-factor, perhaps, or a certain je ne sais quoi; feel free to insert your own relevant term, if you wish. And yes, perhaps a maverick filmmaker could have helped lift this, and yes, one can only wonder what kind of film Edgar Wright would have made had he stayed on as director; he’s still credited as a co-writer but ‘creative differences’ were given as the reason Wright left the project, and it seems as though Marvel’s strict guidelines with regard to consistency of tone, visual design, etc. will only attract compliant filmmakers from now on (this is where I mention it’s purely coincidental that Reed’s previous film was the comedy Yes Man).
It’s a shame, really, as there’s some good work here, but the set-up, crap villain, story arc and even the pitch of the humour all seems way too familiar, and as such much of the material sitting between the action sequences sags. True believers and those with an unquenchable thirst for all things superhero will lap it up, and parts of Ant-Man are certainly fun, but I expect anyone who has been dealing with fatigue on-and-off for a year or two will be ambivalent. Still, given that it manages to keep its focus on a sole superhero for the most part, Ant-Man may well be seen in the future as an exercise in minimalism. This lesser-known character will presumably be shoe-horned into upcoming blockbusters before too long, destined to play second fiddle to the likes of Thor and Iron Man, but at least he gets a couple of his own hours in the spotlight here. And it was nice to see Roger Sterling and Avon Barksdale, albeit fleetingly.
Directed by: Peyton Reed.
Written by: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd. Based on Ant-Man by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby.
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Peña
Cinematography: Russell Carpenter.
Editing: Dan Lebental, Colby Parker, Jr.
Music: Cristophe Beck.
Running Time: 116 minutes.