Is Ant Man the film to ruin Marvel’s winning streak? No. Is it as good as Honey, I Shrunk The Kids?
And don’t you come around these parts no more asking such questions…
It barely feels as if the dust has settled after Avengers: Age of Ultron, but Marvel Studios are back with Ant Man, their second release of the year and twelfth movie in their ongoing sprawling ‘cinematic universe’. Back in April, I described Age of Ultron was one big victory lap for Marvel, a gigantic superhero smackdown with the heroes bringing the sarc and James Spader bringing the snark. In many ways Ant Man feels like something of an antidote.
Obviously, if you were looking for the ‘no more superhero movies’ kind of antidote, it’s not that…
Based on the comic series founded by Stan Lee back in the Sixties. Ant Man begins with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) leaving prison in an attempt to rebuild his life and reconnect with his daughter. Life however proves to be tough on the outside, and Scott finds himself returning to his life of petty crime in an attempt to make ends meet and pay off his parental fees, just so he can see his daughter.
When one job leads him into stealing a strange suit that allows the wearer to miraculously shrink themselves down to tiny sizes at will, he comes into contact with the suit’s original creator Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Pym has spent his life hiding his research and preventing it from getting into the wrong hands. Unfortunately his scorned protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has found a way to weaponise his technology in the form of a similar suit named the yellow jacket which he plans to sell on to the highest most unscrupulous bidder imaginable. With the help of Pym and his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lily), Scott is trained up to take the mantle of Ant Man and is tasked with breaking into a secure installation to destroy what remains of the technology.
Ant Man is a heist movie but it is also a remake of the first Iron Man movie which kicked off the Marvel cinematic universe in the first place back in 2008. You have a charismatic, perfectly flawed white male looking to master a suit that grants him super powers in an attempt to make the world a better place. In doing so, he must learn to find his inner peace. In place of a bald Jeff Bridges, you have another bald bad guy looking to make profit by selling pieces of the hero’s advanced technology to nefarious organisations.
The film has been in development for a long time, perhaps longer than the age of the Marvel cinematic universe. Edgar Wright was originally in line to direct the picture, as a jokey sendup of the superhero genre. He is still credited for writing the screenplay, along with Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), and at time you can feel their quirkier touches imprinted in the humour. Though it would have been fantastic to see Edgar Wright’s take on the character, director Peyton Reed serves up a well rounded movie, with great humour and some of the most imaginative action scenes yet seen in a Marvel movie. Ant Man is kept small and light, and in many ways I preferred it to the dizzying spectacle of Age of Ultron.
Ultimately the main difference comes in scope. Ant Man is about a man who can shrink himself and talk to ants, and like it’s hero it takes confidence in not being that movie where the stakes are so stupendously high. Oh sure, there are large amounts of special effects wizardry, but the scale of the movie feels smaller and more personal. There are no massive sky battles or elaborate domesday plots spawned from cosmic macguffin gems. The final fight feels as if Marvel is poking fun at their own shtick, a massive epic battle playing out on a much smaller scale, namely a toy Thomas the tank engine railway set.
As Scott Lang, Paul Rudd is essentially playing Paul Rudd in every Paul Rudd movie that’s ever been made. He’s a likeable presence that carries the whole however, and at the very least you root for the character simply because he is someone who is trying to do better in his life and become the hero his daughter thinks he is. On top of the Edgar Wright DNA, Paul Rudd and Adam Mckay were also involved in the writing process to fit it more into… well… a Paul Rudd movie. Luckily there is no sign of Will Ferrell.
It’s also great to see Michael Douglas on the big screen again. There is a brief flashback sequence at the start of the movie that has a younger Gekko looking Douglas laying the verbal and physical smackdown on a panel of recognisable SHIELD execs. As Hank Pym, Douglas is the cantankerous mentor and the overprotective father. Pym’s arc is neatly mirrored by Scott’s, in that he is essentially looking to reconnect with his daughter. Douglas obviously brings the mentorly charm to the role, but in one of the more dramatic scenes, you are reminded of what a great actor he is.
Evangeline Lily’s character occupies the strange position as the hard chick, clearly the person best suited to donning the suit in the first place. Obviously she’s relegated to the side for the duration of the movie to support her father as he trains up the hapless thief. The movie gives a perfectly good reason for this, though Pym is desperate he is unwilling to sacrifice his daughter even in the pursuit of the greater good, which in some ways gives the character more believability and humanity. On the other hand, a mid credits sting feels as if Marvel are directly addressing the lack of women in their superhero roles. There have been twelve of these movies. About time indeed.
Less effective is Corey Stoll as the bad guy Yellow Jacket. It’s been a good year for uninspired but gleefully scenery chewing villains. Vincent D’onofrio hammed it up in Jurassic World and Hugh Jackman’s bohan bad guy in Chappie was probably the best thing about the movie. We now have Yellow Jacket to add to this list.
Having graduated from the world of critically acclaimed TV (House of Cards) Stoll’s character is basically an evil version of Ant Man with added lasers (that sound remarkably like the laser weapons of an AT AT from Star Wars… is that relevant?). He is led to evil because his former mentor and father figure Pym never truly appreciated his genius. It has kicked the process of bastardisation into overdrive of course, resulting in a character who reduces people and innocent little lambs into small pools of bloody pulp. At one point it is pointed out how the molecular chemical that allows him to use the Yellow Jacket size warping technology is ‘making’ him more evil. Which I had to kick myself for, as it’s just about the laziest excuse you could have to explain somebody’s fall into villainly. It was the evil juice that affected my brain. Granted the smallest chemical imbalance to the brain can have a catastrophic effect on human behaviour, but come on…
In the end, Yellow jacket is just another of Marvel’s undercooked villains. Marvel take so much time and effort getting the hero right, the villain has a habit of feeling peripheral as a mere obstacle or boss stage, the heroes must get past in the third act so they can go on to the sequel.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of the movie is Michael Pena as Scott’s hispanic criminal buddy, Luis. He injects the film with warmth and comedy and steals pretty much every scene he appears in. I’m been used to seeing Pena in gritty movies like End of Watch or Fury, but as the comedic sidekick in Ant Man he is a revelation. A recurring gag has him explaining the story of how he gained a tip in unscrupulous detail. The ‘backup scene’ is also one of the funniest bits in the movie.
Marvel already made a success out of the movie starring a talking gun toting raccoon and his tree man sidekick, and their streak in making crowd pleasing action adventures doesn’t stop with Ant Man. Though there are nods to the larger Marvel cinematic universe, with Paul Rudd destined to take his place in that glorified long shot alongside the rest of the Avengers, the new Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Benedict Cumberbatch, Ant Man at this stage feels refreshingly as it’s own movie.
For the most part Ant Man excels in being that smaller film with a tighter focus. It’s never too preachy with the superhero spiel and is genuinely funny the whole way through. The big/small action scenes are well constructed and have an element of imagination over superhumans punching each other. In many ways I preferred it to the flabbier indulgence of Age of Ultron. There are stakes, but they don’t involve mass genocide, there is enough heart to anchor all the quips, finally, it may just make you appreciate ants in a different light.
Related Movies About Shrinking:
Honey, I shrunk the kids (1989)
Better than Ant Man. Shrinks Ant Man down to size and then eats him with cheerios.
Just waiting for the remake. In which James Franco is shrunken down to pilot a microscopic vessel around Seth Rogen’s body. Cue weed jokes and homo-erotic lines of men being inside one another. Ha ha ha ha. What is up with that? I literally cannot wait…*
*NO, DON’T YOU DARE MAKE THIS MOVIE.