ANT MAN Movie Review
Whenever a new superhero flick is coming out you see a number of online publications start running pieces on superhero fatigue. They claim the genre has worn out its welcome and people are sick of it. Of course those movies then go on to do well critically and commercially and those same sites shut up for a year until the next one comes out.
But superhero fatigue is a real danger.
Marvel has managed to avoid it so far by fusing genres. Each of its properties have their own genre toybox to play around in. Thor is fantasy, Captain America is an espionage thriller, Guardians of the Galaxy is a space opera. It works so well because it gives each of the franchises a distinct identity. And now for Marvel’s newest character, Ant Man, they are playing around with the Heist Movie. And it follows that formula to the letter.
There is the recruitment of our hero by an eccentric genius with a plan, the planning and layout of the mission, the training montage, the assembling of the crew, etc, etc.
The twist to the formula is, of course, the crew assembled are a bunch of ants, and the hero is a dude who can shrink down and hang out with them. It’s that detail that actually makes this the weirdest Marvel movie to date. Everyone thought that Guardians of the Galaxy was going to be the weird one because it featured a talking raccoon and his best friend the tree. But that movie was a broad sci-fi that took place in its own little corner of the universe, so the weirdness was just accepted at face value. Ant Man takes place on Earth and plays out in a genre that is usually pretty straight laced. The comic book stuff and heist movie elements don’t mesh as seamlessly as Marvel’s other attempts, but that is actually where most of the fun comes from in this movie.
Hank Pym (Michael Douglas clearly enjoying himself) is a scientific genius who created something called the Pym Particle, which allows him to shrink himself down to ant size (and smaller, but that comes with risks) and fight against his enemies without them even knowing he’s there. But when it becomes clear S.H.I.E.L.D (with cameos from some old familiar faces) want to use it for more sinister purposes, Pym quits and takes the Pym Particle with him.
Years later it comes to Pym’s attention that his former protege has recreated his formula and is planning on selling it to the highest bidder. So Pym hires an ex-con and thief with a conscience, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), to break into the high security compound and steal it. It’s small scale and small stakes. This is not end of the world level hi-jinks ala Age of Ultron, but that is not to say it is without weight. Both Scott and Hank are fighting for their daughters. Scott risks losing his because of his criminal past, and Hank feels he lost his daughter (Evangeline Lilly) when her mother died. It is the right balance of heart and humour that Marvel perfected early on. The smaller scale of Ant Man makes it a refreshing change of pace from the “end of all life as we know it” drama Marvel has been peddling in it’s latest efforts.
The star of the show is, perhaps surprisingly, Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym. It is his character that drives the narrative, his character with the brains and ingenuity to put it all together, and his character that makes the most interesting inclusion to the Marvel Universe. I hope Douglas sticks around so we can see Pym interact with some of the other mad geniuses that populate this world. Douglas brings a pathos to what is otherwise a fun, breezy film.
And that is where Paul Rudd excels. He is Marvel’s most entertaining every-man (whilst still being obviously skilled). He’s basically your normal guy who just wants his family back but can’t catch a break. He can’t even hold down a job at Baskins and Robbins. The script (which Rudd and Adam Mckay had a hand in) primarily deals in humour and that is the most effective way to get us quickly on the side of a new character. Scott is funny (or more importantly, Paul Rudd is funny, managing to sell some lesser jokes that most wouldn’t be able to) and so we like him. Scott is as amazed by the fantastical heroes of the world as we are. He’s not one of them, he is one of us. He is who Hawkeye should have been from the jump, a regular dude thrust into a world that is way too big for him to understand, but who doesn’t back down from it.
Scott is our viewpoint character and it is through him we come to understand just what the Pym Particle allows the user to do. The fight sequences, which feature Scott shrinking down and regrowing as he jumps and throws punches, are some of the most inventive yet seen in Marvel’s canon. They are kinetic, exciting, and very often funny. Director Peyton Reed likes to cut from the high drama of a fight to show how silly it looks from a normal sized person’s perspective. He goes to that well often, but it is never not funny so you can’t begrudge him.
The CGI used throughout is never mind blowing but is serviceable enough to keep you engrossed. The effects are clean and clear, making it easy to follow what is happening even when hundreds of ants are on screen at once.
The film has a few missteps, most notably being the bland villain which is such a repeated complaint at Marvel movies at this point that it almost goes without saying. The other comes down to personal preference. Paul Rudd, as stated, is funny in this film and sells almost every gag he’s given, which is why it is an odd choice to give him a small crew of criminal pals to act as comic relief. At best they are superfluous, and at worst they are annoying. Personally, I enjoy Michael Pena’s rapid fire delivery so I’ll allow it, but your mileage with the character may vary. There is also a cameo from a certain Avenger around the mid point that feels really shoehorned in, but at the same time it results in one of the most enjoyable action sequences of the film.
That sums up Ant Man perfectly, as even the things that don’t quite work come with a “but it’s fun”. It’s an enjoyable romp that introduces three interesting characters to the universe, all of whom I look forward to seeing again. It moves along briskly, has some great gags, and just enough heart to make you really care about these characters. This was a film many had written off before it was even released due to behind the scenes problems, but those problems are not apparent when watching. It’s another success for Marvel, and another treat for fans.