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July 13, 2015
It is tough, when discussing Marvel’s latest blockbuster off the unrelenting production line, to not consider “the other Ant-Man movie that never was”. Whilst the box-office juggernaut doesn’t so much print movie tickets anymore as they print money, Marvel’s tiniest hero was much less of a guaranteed slam-dunk than the summer’s earlier entry Avenger: Age of Ultron. But after the now infamous and still controversial departure of Edgar Wright from the production mere weeks before it was scheduled to shoot, Ant-Man faced a slightly larger hill to climb if it were to join the God and God-like characters Thor and Iron Man at the top of the mountain.
Several months after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) must aid Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Lost and The Hobbit‘s Evangeline Lilly) in safeguarding the mystery of the Ant-Man technology, which allows its user to decrease in size but increase in strength, from the threat of Pym’s former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), and plot a heist to steal the Yellowjacket technology before Cross replicates the Pym particle and creates his own shrinking army.
All fears that Paul Rudd and (Wright’s replacement) Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man might not have the wit, charm or x-factor to be anything but an insignificant insect amongst its fellow Avengers can now be put to rest. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Marvel’s latest offering is as good as their first entry into their carefully built cinematic universe, 2008’s Iron Man. Kevin Feige and co. once again display their knack for excellent casting, and it is on the shoulders of this talented ensemble that the movie rests.
Michael Douglas delivers a commanding performance as the ageing genius and original Ant-Man Hank Pym, bringing an effortless calm to each scene but sparring well when required with his more comically inclined co-stars. Evangeline Lilly is far more than a romantic interest for Scott Lang (a relationship that is developed more under the surface), enjoying some great scenes with Michael Douglas, their father/daughter dynamic forming one of the emotional cores of the story. Whilst her ass-kicking is few and far between, a certain post-credits scene suggests that there is much of that to come in future entries to the franchise. Last but not least it’s Michael Peña (End Of Watch) who threatens to steal the show from Rudd: his turn as Scott’s best-friend and former prison cohort, Luis, is one of comic perfection and something not to be missed.
Paul Rudd is not to be outshone by anyone though, and he proves any doubters wrong about his credentials as a leading man in a big franchise, elevating Scott Lang from just another down-on-his-luck-but-destined-to-be-a-hero type of character.
Fathers and daughters seem to be a running theme in the movie, and Lang’s daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) is key to his need to change his ways and become a hero for the little girl.
Rudd brings all of his average-joe charm to the table, making Scott Lang Marvel’s most likeable and relatable hero, but it’s his comic timing that helps him wear the Ant-Man suit so well and makes it impossible not to root for him right ‘till the end.
Marvel however continues its struggle in the villains department with Corey Stoll merely functional to the overall story: he isn’t really given the material to take his character further, as his former protégé/ mentor relationship with Hank Pym doesn’t have enough room to develop and blossom.
It is hard to say whether Edgar Wright’s version of the film would have upped the irony that is tinged throughout Ant-Man (based on Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, I would suspect “yes”), but Adam McKay and Paul Rudd’s re-working of the script gets the balance just right, and it is what makes Ant-Man really work. The film seems constantly aware of its own silliness which helps deliver some fantastic moments, notably a majority of the third-act. The showdown between Ant-Man and the Yellowjacket on the toy train set is even better than the trailer suggested, drawing a lot of laughs and cheers and is one of many brilliant moments in quite possibly the best final third of any Marvel movie.
Ant-Man falls a fair way shy of perfection though, largely due to one pretty awful scene in the second-half of the film. Scott must make a daring venture into Avengers HQ to retrieve a device that Hank needs for their final heist. Things don’t go according to plan as Ant-Man comes face to face with an Avenger, Anthony Mackie’s Falcon. Whilst the scene on its own is reasonably good fun, it fits into the movie like the Hulk into an elevator. For all the classy and clever hints to the wider Marvel universe littered throughout the film (listen out for a little reference to a certain wall-crawling individual), this scene feels cheaply and awkwardly shoehorned in, trying far too hard to establish Ant-Man’s place in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).
Despite a glowing reference from director Peyton Reed just before the press screening I attended, the 3D also adds to the list of gripes. It does little to add anything to the action sequences and doesn’t fully explore its potential in relation to the shrinking powers of the suit, which are otherwise interestingly utilised and give the audience something completely different to see when compared to the other Avengers. It would be unfair to not mention that the 3D does look very cool in some of the film’s final moments when Scott goes “sub-atomic”, yet it doesn’t quite justify the extra cost on the ticket.
It is impossible not to dwell, even for a few moments, on the movie that Ant-Man might have been, had Edgar Wright’s near 10 year work on the project been fully-realised, but that does a great disservice to the movie that it is: a clever, funny and wonderfully different superhero story.
With the perfect star in the title role and an equally good supporting cast, Ant-Man proves all doubters wrong and ensures Marvel’s reign at the top of the box-office will continue.
Ant-Man is released in UK cinemas on July 17th