It’s summertime and we get another Marvel movie about a lesser known superhero. Last year we had the amazing Guardians of the Galaxy, but I was very apprehensive about this latest instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
I presume more of this story will come to light after this film’s general release, but rumour has it that general legend Edgar Wright and co-writer Joe Cornish (another legend) approached Marvel to do an Ant-Man movie long before Iron Man’s release in 2008. As we know the MCU has become a box-office phenomenon with interconnecting plots and characters all leading towards Avengers: Infinity War in 2018 and 2019.
Everything was in place for production to begin but then Wright unexpectedly left shortly before filming due to that old chestnut ‘creative differences’ and changes to the script so that it fits more into the MCU. This was shocking as he allegedly spent over 10 years trying to bring this film to the screen and I for one was very disappointed. Just see Shaun of the Dead (2004) or Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) to see examples of his kinetic visual flare and tight storytelling.
As with Guillermo Del Toro’s version of The Hobbit, it’s a shame that we won’t get to see Wright’s take on the material. Unsure about the whole project and seeing a less than impressive trailer a few months ago I was wondering if Peyton Reed’s movie would be any good, and I’m pleased to say that this film exceeded my expectations in every way!
Ant Man is the story of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a brilliant scientist who manages to shrink the space between atoms whilst vastly increasing their strength. He calls them Pym particles no less and builds a suit with the capability to shrink and restore the size of its wearer. He was a secret superhero during the Cold War, and in the 80’s S.H.I.E.L.D. tried to reproduce Pym particles without his knowledge. He didn’t want his discovery to fall into the wrong hands and thus buries his research.
Fast forward to present day and Pym’s protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) in on the verge of harnessing Pym’s research to create a similar yet armed super suit – Yellowjacket – to sell to the highest bidder. Pym recruits ex con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to become the Ant-Man and destroy the suit and Cross’s research in one of the most entertaining heists put on screen.
At its heart this is a film about redemption, family and doing the right thing. Hank’s estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) is still hurt over her mother’s death and blames her father. Scott has been recently released from prison and is trying to do what he can to be with his daughter by paying maintenance and avoiding a life of crime. This plan works for about five minutes until he and three fellow ex-cons formulate a plan which leads Scott down the path to becoming the hero that his daughter needs.
Of course we get references to The Avengers and other characters but thankfully this film doesn’t spend too much time building up the next instalments (a la Age of Ultron (2015)) and Ant-Man feels like its own individual movie.
To be fair Marvel have a great track record in terms of critical acclaim and box office revenue for their films, which puts them on par with Pixar. On a side note I think that Marvel will reset its cinematic universe at the end of Infinity War, killing then reviving main characters with different (cheaper) actors and ensuring MCU mark 2 (as opposed to phase 4) is a success.
Which, if true, may be a shame as Marvel has a wealth of characters we’ve never heard of and that they still have the rights to. And if they continue to use them to create films of this calibre then we as an audience are in for a treat over the coming years (and decades).
Although Scott Lang is the titular character this is a well thought out team movie full of fun and silly supporting characters. Paul Rudd owns his character with a mix of charm and impeccable comic timing. He doesn’t get to stretch his acting chops too much but is a flawed and vulnerable hero which makes him much more accessible to the audience.
We also have the welcome return of Michael Douglas as Lang and Cross’s mentor. I can’t spoil too much of his back story but I would love to see him return in a 1970’s set prequel (come on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Agent Carter; give the audience what they want!).
Evangeline Lilly hasn’t done much since Lost (2004-2010) ended, except for turning up in The Hobbit trilogy (2012-2014) as an Elf warrior who quickly descended into a pointless love interest. Here she actually makes a great impression as Hank’s estranged daughter and I’m looking forward to seeing her role develop within the MCU.
You may have seen Corey Stoll in Netflix’s House of Cards, and here he is more than the one-dimensional bog standard villain. He has his sinister moments and seeks financial success and approval from his mentor Hank. Add in Scott as Hank’s new protégé and you know how this relationship will end.
The soundtrack hits the right notes (including the best cinematic use of a song by The Cure), the special effects are great and the 3D is actually quite good in this film, adding a lot of depth which comes alive during the shrinking and fight scenes. For once this is a film worth paying the extra few quid to see in 3D and has been nicely put together by Peyton Reed.
Now if you see the director as the manager or governor, then I ask what did Reed add to the film if the script, cinematography, special effects etc. were all in place, and he just had to come in and oversee the project? There is a lot of Wright in this film in terms of how the action is shot and edited and some shots are straight out of the 2012 Comic Con test footage.
But a lot of what makes this film great this comes from Cornish’s and Wright’s excellent script (which admittedly Paul Rudd and others worked on after they left). It has heart, great pacing, and realistic peril on a tiny scale, but mostly it is very, very funny and mixes humour with dramatic and action beats perfectly.
It ticks all the boxes for a summer blockbuster and executes them perfectly. To quote my friend at the screening, ‘there is nothing bad about this film’ – only that I want to see a standalone sequel alongside Ant Man’s integration into the Avengers when Captain America: Civil War hits the screens next May.
In Marvel tradition we have the obligatory Stan Lee cameo, a mid-credits sting (pun intended) and a post credits scene featuring… well just go and see it.
Overall Verdict: Marvel have once again won the summer at the cinema! I still would have loved to see what Edgar Wright would have done behind the camera but this is one of the best comic book films in recent years and I already want to see it again.
Reviewer: George Elcombe