A curious mix of fanfare, hype and concern shadows each shiny new induction in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU); will, in this case Ant-Man, be the straw that finally breaks the cash-camel’s back? Will the silly-sounding, unfamiliar comic book franchise birth Marvel’s first modern flop? The answer this time around, like the last with Guardians of the Galaxy, is a resolute no: Ant-Man actually makes for a surprisingly enjoyable and original film.
Paul Rudd deliverers a solidly earthbound Paul Rudd performance as Scott Lang, a Robin Hood-esque convicted burglar drafted in to help the now-retired former Ant-Man aka Hank Pym by adopting the mantle himself for what is meant to be a one-off heist. A surprisingly energetic Michael Douglas, clearly revelling the role, plays Pym in a pleasant shift away from the Hollywood franchise tradition of having established actors come in and read their lines noncommittally for the pay cheque. Douglas really commits.
Continuity of previously unknown characters within the MCU is one of Ant-Man’s refreshing elements, and something that could only feasibly be achieved successfully by Marvel Studios in this, their on-going Renaissance. Rather than harking back to the now-classical ‘origin story’ we expect of superhero debuts (Toby Maguire falling off buildings, Andrew Garfield falling off buildings, etc.), Ant-Man hits the ground running by establishing itself as a continuation of a previously unseen history within other histories, whilst remaining independent enough to welcome newcomers to the cloister.
The film economically puts every scene and character to strong use. Even Lang’s criminal pals (one of whom is the rapper T.I., dontchaknow) ultimately abet in the film’s climactic showdown with villain Darren Cross aka Yellowjacket, played by the criminally wasted Corey Stoll. As is Marvel tradition, the film’s villain is unimpressive, a pre-packaged, throwaway ‘bad guy’ cliché. Little explanation is given as to why Cross, former protégé of Hank Pym, wants to sell the Ant-Man technology on to terrorists, beyond a vague half-setup of a father/son relationship between the two gone cold and one throwaway reference to the villain’s own shrinking suit negatively affecting his behaviour. An educated guess would assume this was because the creators were more focused on the fun and ingenuity of exploring the visual effects of the shrinking suit and the personal relationship between Pym and his daughter Hope, perhaps considering the villain a sideshow obligation.
Truly, the fun of Ant-Man is bridged between the film’s humorous dialogue and the clever uses of CGI to explore the world as seen from the perspective of an ant. These scenes, fortunately, stay on the right side of Honey, I Shrunk The Kids but will still throw you in to childlike awe – as any decent superhero film should.
[Rhys Harper – @RhysRHarper]