Marvel phase 2 rounded off with Peyton Reed’s Ant Man and while it carries the baggage of the dozen or so other Marvel films it does have a somewhat refreshing feel to it. I’ve come to accept Reed as director in time and the “but it wasn’t Edgar Wright” rant will not feature in this review but it is clear Reed was a company man and Wright wasn’t. Ant Man is well grounded in the well-worn Marvel schematic and questions as to what they have actually achieved creatively since the MCU begun could be asked. They have made lots of money though and good on them. It is worth noting Ant Man is essentially a phase 1 project and was scheduled for release along with Iron Man before Disney’s claws found their way into the comic book studio. This film may have fitted in well then when this universe was being established but now it just feels 6 years too late.
The film opens in 1989 with some SHEILD cynicism as our beloved superhero intelligence organisation looks to acquire the red vialed Pym particle which powers the Ant Man suit from Hank Pym played by a Michael Douglas who has had some sips from the CGI fountain of youth. This encounter is played like it will have some consequences some way down the line but there is some air of gratuity about it. Fast forward to present day and a new threat presents itself but Hank Pym is too old to suit up. His feisty daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) is up for it but Marvel sexism her father’s protectiveness forbids her. Enter Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang: Hank recruits this ex-con thief, via an intricate information loop, for a critical job with world security implications. This film was angled as a heist film and it starts to take that mould except instead of a safe of money or a priceless work of art, the said job has an Ant Man type suit called the Yellow Jacket as the target with the side mission of stopping the film’s antagonist and Hanks old protégé Darren Cross played with wasted villainous intensity by Corey Stoll. The Yellow Jacket is supposed to revolutionise warfare and espionage but Cross has a problem perfecting this technology which will be the wet dream of war mongers and weapon contractors and an army of Yellow Jackets is supposedly in the offing unless Lang succeeds in his heist.
If you have seen the trailers you know heist is a bust (if you haven’t sorry) and Cross finds himself in the suit by some major contrivance. Why Cross is actually the baddie, the film doesn’t bother to tell. He just is. He has some bad blood with Hank, yes, but not enough to push him to the megalomaniac he appears to be and even HYDRA watches on as Cross turns up the villainy to 11. Phase 2 appears to have ended with Marvel still looking for the winning formula on antagonists. The formula for the heroes has also become somewhat problematic with yet another fatiguing origin story filling screen time. We watch Lang come to terms with this new powerful technology and follow him through an obligatory training montage as he tries to master the intricacies of duo scaled offence along with the communication and control of ants – for those still in the wind Ant Man shrinks to the size of an ant. It really is underwhelming stuff for the most part and the novelty of a superhero traversing ant burrows quickly gets old. The whole Edgar Wright stink makes you feel Marvel wasn’t playing ball with his vision and a seeming inventive embracing of the silliness of the Ant Man character which would have been pivotal in establishing him as a truly unique character.
The film has a great deal of humour and Reed expertly plays numerous sequences for good laughs. He manipulates the scale changes to comic effect and spices well-timed visual gags as the action ensues. Some of the best character moments come when the film is pushing its delightful comic tone and Lang’s burglar buddies (Michael Peña, T.I. and David Dastmalchian) provide impressive shades of synchronised hilarity. Reed is aware Rudd is an accomplished comedy actor and, more importantly, tries to allow him to be funny with passable success. Rudd as Lang is quite the superhero anomaly and we are graced with a scene that pits him against Anthony Mackie’s Black Falcon which shows him a little star struck as he is thrilled to be in the presence of an Avenger. He then proceeds to school our winged soldier but Lang doesn’t come across a man of extreme courage, honour or will – he just wants to tread the straight and narrow and do right by his 7-year-old daughter. The family angle is probably the only thread that the strays of the Marvel schematic and we never mistake Lang’s drive to be a better father although the film could have done well to do more than pay mere lip service to this thread.
We may not have to suffer through an “epic” finale and no cities were harmed in the making of this film as it is positioned as primarily a heist film and it does work on some level as a legitimate heist comedy thanks to the cast but when the big heist does arrive it is ultimately festival of CGI ants with the gimmicky figure of Ant Man sprinting along with buoyancy. I do admit all that could not have been done without the special effects but a little grounding in practicality wouldn’t have hurt. Reed’s Ant Man does well to prove smaller can be better and the solid character moments, well-timed humour and Pena’s notably amusing scene-stealing performance make this film an enjoyable if not impressive watch.