The very best Marvel films allow the voices of those they entrust to temporarily take command of their canon to make their stamp on the material. Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, Shane Black’s Iron Man Three and of course James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy being the stand outs in that regard. Director Peyton Reed and co-re-writers Adam McKay and Paul Rudd play Marvel ‘company men’ and the end result scuttles in the dirt in comparison to a ball tearing Phase Two in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).
Ex-con Scott Lang (Rudd) is trying to put his life back together after a stint in jail for some Robin Hood corporate espionage. When he can’t even hold down a job at an ice-creamery and he’s unable to see his daughter until he repays a mounting child support debt, his friends convince him that there’s an easy burglary job that can change his fortune. Unfortunately, his dim crew lead him into a trap, robbing now retired Ant-Man Hank Pam (Michael Douglas), which inadvertently becomes an audition to become a superhero.
Ant-Man leaves you largely in a state of neutrality. From minute one, you’re introduced to a lead character that is constantly dwarfed (no pun intended) by every character around him. Whether it’s Pym (Douglas) as you’re wishing that moments that give you a glimpse in the O.G Ant-Man playing a kind of good guy S.H.I.E.L.D answer to Bucky’s (Sebastian Stan) Winter Soldier, and getting up to all kinds of undetectable shenanigans. Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne, Pym’s daughter, is a stronger, faster and smarter candidate for the one of a kind technology. Hope is unfortunately held back to service the film’s duel underlying father/daughter relationship arcs. On the other hand, even Michael Peña, who plays Luis, who overcomes being a reanimated stereotype as the beautifully oxymoronic crook-cum-artisan that recounts some ridiculously elaborate and interconnected stories that bookend the film. He’s fast-talking, extremely optimistic, casually brutally violent and yet wholly endearing in a way that you just want to hug him. Paul Rudd is one of the most likeable guys in Hollywood and yet somehow his Scott Lang is completely charmless. In 60 seconds during 40 Year Old Virgin trying to out “do you know how you’re gay?” Seth Rogen, he’s so much more comfortable, hilarious and witty that he is at all in Ant-Man.
There are definite highlights, in the wake of so many steadily impressive visual effects laden films, the change in stakes and scope is one of the coolest elements Ant-Man. The digitally younger Michael Douglas does to anti-ageing effects what True Detective did for the use of wigs and facial hair. Watching Lang (Rudd) collapse and expand to fluidly infiltrate, attack and evade the obstacles that he’s faced with seems to mash up the novelty of an Inner Space with the teleportation of Nightcrawler from X-Men. It’s a great classical trick enhanced with technology. The settings of the smack downs as a result also provide some reprieve for cities of unwitting bystanders, as the only trains that are being derailed in the film have Thomas the Tank Engines faces. In addition, armies of digital ants become a swarming extension of Scott’s microscopic body.
The one concept that is beautifully and almost covertly reinforces in Ant-Man is that idea of some of these heroes are merely torchbearers for ‘mantles’ to be passed along to new worthy successors. In the same way that Avengers: Age of Ultron sees a roster rotation of the MCU super-team Ant-Man establishes Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) as post-World War Two hero operating while Capt. (Chris Evans) was on ice. Instead of handing over the ‘Pym Particle’ to Tony’s father Howard Stark, he retires the suit until a potential worthy successor presents himself. As the pillars of the MCU, Evans and Robert Downey Jr, get deeper into this twenty film odyssey the reality of not only a temporary hiatus versus a permanent retirement.
Ant-Man isn’t so much watching, as living through Weekend At Bernie’s. Peyton Reed and co. come and parade the soulless and lifeless corpse of an Edgar Wright film. Sure there are some wacky hijinks, some pratfalls and laughs but in the moments that they position in the body in a way that once living person becomes recognisable, one can’t help but wonder what might have been.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Peyton Reed
Written by: Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish (screenplay/story) and then Adam McKay & Paul Rudd
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Abby Ryder Fortson, David Dastmalchian, T.I., Wood Harris, Hayley Atwell, John Slattery, Martin Donovan