Ant-Man is the latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and as the name of its central character suggests, it is a refreshing step back from the grander scale each movie has been going for up until now.
The main objective in this film is not to prevent some super-villain from destroying the world or taking over the universe – rather the plot revolves around Hank Pym trying to stop his revolutionary shrinking technology from falling into the wrong hands. To help him do this he seeks out former criminal Scott Lang through indirect means, and they set to work on a plan to retrieve the ‘Yellowjacket’, which uses similar technology to Pym’s Ant-Man suit, from the hands of his protege Darren Cross. The overall plot doesn’t get any more complicated than that, and while I found this understated premise to be a nice change of pace for the Marvel saga, there were little details within it that didn’t quite resonate with me.
Lang’s struggle to prove himself worthy of a relationship with his daughter, who already thinks him a hero, is a sub-plot that feels almost as cliched as the film’s main villain, Darren Cross. The latter’s motivations and character arc are as two-dimensional as they come; he does lethal experiments on lambs for the sake of it and laughs maniacally like any typical bad guy of the narrative should.
It’s worth noting that original director Edgar Wright left Ant-Man mid-way through production due to ‘creative differences’, with Peyton Reed (whose main experience before this lay in comedy films, and it shows) taking over the reins. However, whether this had any lasting effect on certain parts of the plot is hard to say at a glance.
The film does a pretty decent job of glossing over its flaws, thanks to Reed’s well-timed comedic interludes and some creative uses of the ‘shrinking’ concept. It did get a few laughs out of me, though occasionally those laughs were a little exasperated. For the slightly younger demographic at whom Ant-Man is predominantly aimed, though, those moments will prove a major hit, if the screening I was in is anything to go by.
One sequence involving a train set will surely bring a smile even to the most cynical faces – that this scene is also essentially a tongue-in-cheek fight to the death between the main adversaries helps add such a creative and refreshing vibe to the final third of the film. They’ve certainly done a great job of making this experience feel special, even if it arguably doesn’t back that up with enough substance under its surface.
Michael Pena deserves special mention as Scott’s friend and flatmate Luis; a comic relief character who is genuinely funny. He is central to a particularly well-edited sequence that helps advance the plot in a helpfully quick and entertaining fashion. In another movie this kind of exposition would threaten to kill the pace of a story – Ant-Man rushes through the finer details while including subtle easter eggs for anyone listening hard enough or willing to go back later, which I appreciated.
Other main performances include Paul Rudd as the Ant-Man himself, Michael Douglas as former Ant-Man and creator of the suit, Hank Pym, and Evangeline Lilly (clearly by now the most successful of the Lost cast) playing his estranged daughter, Hope. Anthony Mackie also has a small role during an entertaining action sequence and returns for the film’s post-credits scene later on. The MCU has consistently been spot-on in terms of casting, and this case is no different as everyone plays their part well; including Corey Stoll as the villain, though the material he’s given to work with here isn’t outstanding.
Elsewhere there are clever, but not overbearing references to the larger Marvel universe that Ant-Man is a part of. In fact, I’d say this film does the best job so far of tying itself in with its cousins while remaining its own movie with its own distinct character. For once there is a logical reason given for not simply ‘calling the Avengers’ in the face of some great threat.
Ultimately, I had a lot of fun with Ant-Man. Even more so than I had with Age of Ultron earlier this year, and I would argue that this, when judged in context, is a better film than the Avengers’ most recent outing. That is not to say it doesn’t have its flaws, of course; I think some of them are due to Marvel’s insistence on marketing the film more towards a younger generation and aiming for an age rating to match. Then again, one could say the movie’s most charming moments also owe themselves to that. In the end, something a little different from Hollywood should be treasured, even if it is part of a larger profit-hungry machine, and Ant-Man, despite some lingering bad habits, is certainly that.
8 / 10