Wednesday 8 July 2015

Ant-Man by Peyton Reed - Review

Marvel has never been afraid of taking risks, but Ant-Man is the one film that feels like their biggest gamble in a while. This is the first time since Captain America in 2011 that the studio introduces a new character single-handedly carrying a whole film on his shoulders, and one that is not well known from the public at all. And while Marvel has always given the image that they care about their fans, there has been the small matter of original director Edgar Wright walking out of the project due to "creative differences" after years of working on it, which did not go down well at all on the blogosphere.

In Ant-Man, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a small-time burglar, unwittingly finds himself the recipient of a suit that allows him to shrink to the size of an ant while seeing his physical force increased tenfold, making him the perfect weapon. Enrolled by the creator of this technology Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), he must pulls the perfect heist to ensure this invention does not fall into the hand of megalomaniac Darren Cross (Corey Stoll).

Ant-Man feels very different from Marvel more recent output. In fact, it is almost as if it had been designed to counter-act the anticipated criticisms that were about to be directed at Avengers: Age of Ultron in particular and their more recent films in general, in which bigger was always better, with their increasingly elaborate set pieces and climatic final acts of destruction. There are several in-jokes levelled at them, with a mention of the Avengers "dropping a city off the sky" and the whole miniaturised setting of the final. Ant-Man is also a lighter film, that takes its time with its exposition (being an origin film) yet never feels dull or the mere opening act for bigger things to come (like so many recent origin films have been).

And while some have lamented that recent films were missing the simpler pleasures of Marvel's phase one, this is the perfect film for them, as Ant-Man is enormous fun, with several lines and scenes eliciting spontaneous applause from the audience I saw this with, never taking it itself too seriously but emotionally engaging enough. This remains a blockbuster however and the special effects are excellent, making the most of the opportunities offered by a miniaturisation scenario (apart from not including a fight against a spider, how is that even missing from the film?) but without ever feeling overwhelming, with the script firmly occupying centre stage.

With Ant-Man director Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Down With Love) finds a great balance, being able to please both long standing fans of the comics and films, but without making it alienating to a casual audience, even those who may not have watched a single one of Marvel films previously. There are enough Easter eggs in this to bring a smile to many (and you absolutely have to stay right until the end for the brilliant mid then end credit scenes), but while it fits in nicely within the Marvel multiverse, this never feels overwhelming. Several characters from previous films turn up in cameos (which I won't reveal!) of various screen time and their inclusion works perfectly.

Paul Rudd has been waiting for a long time to become an A-list lead actor, and he may have finally found the part to crown him. His Ant-Man is eminently likeable and a nicely fleshed out character with a pleasant story arc, and the whole back story about his estranged wife and daughter never feels superficially tagged along, rather giving him a certain depth. While he is adorable and more than capable of carrying the film, Ant-Man actually feels like a group effort however, with a great cast playing some nicely developed secondary characters. Michael Douglas as Hank Pym brings in some old school gravitas, just the same way Robert Redford did in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Evangeline Lilly is given a meaty part to play, with promises of more to come in future sequels. But it is Michael Peña who nearly threatens to steal the film, as a hilarious small time crook who redeems himself throughout the film.

Baddies have been the weakest link of Marvel films so far (apart from Loki), and while Darren Cross/Yellowjacket feels a little underdeveloped and obvious as a villain with a God complex, Corey Stoll (who made an impact playing Ernest Heminghway in Midnight in Paris) makes a great impression all the same, with a strong screen presence and well judged gleeful villainy that never descends into campy territory.

Despite the complicated gestation and director's switch, the film never feels unbalanced or disjonted. It is hard to say how much the film owes to his original director Edgar Wright (who keeps his scriptwriting credit alongside Joe Cornish), but Payton Reed adds an almost jazzy and touch to it that is very refreshing.

If there is one criticism, it would be levelled at the trailers, which have revealed far too many big pieces, leaving the odd impression of having pretty much seen it all of action scenes, but then again, I can understand how the studio felt they had to go all guns blazing to entice an unsuspecting audience with their untested property.

Marvel might have lost the crown of the biggest US box office opening to Jurassic World this year, but with Ant-Man they have come up with yet another successful addition to their incredible run, one that seems to be showing no signs of abating.


Ant-Man. USA 2015. Directed by Payton Reed. Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Peña, Michael Douglas...

Ant-Man is out in the UK and the US on the 17th of July 15

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