The latest expansion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is both a risk and a no-brainer. It focuses on a hero with almost no general recognition outside of proper comic book fans, without the comedy Star Wars appeal that so aided Guardians of the Galaxy, and will really test the sheer power of the Marvel brand. It’s also got a hell of job in that it opens Phase 3 of the Marvel saga, setting us up for the next three years of superhero movies. Then again, it also makes perfect sense that Ant-Man should follow up Age of Ultron, its small scale and family-focused story acting as an effective palate cleanser after the bombastic world-saving of Joss Whedon’s billion dollar sequel.
Previously the project of Edgar Wright, Ant-Man has had storied production troubles, with Wright (and fellow writer Joe Cornish) departing the film over the strict studio control imposed upon him and being replaced as director by Peyton Reed, although his and Cornish’s script remained as a guidance point. To answer the most pressing question – no, this does not feel like a broken film, but yes, you do sometimes wish you got to see Wright’s vision. Thankfully, the vast majority of the original cast stayed on board, with the exception of Patrick Wilson, and they prove irresistibly likable. Paul Rudd leads as the eponymous hero (aka Scott Lang), and brings his trademark easy charm to the role of an ex-con with incredible shrinking powers. Michael Douglas is his mentor Hank Pym, and whilst he has plenty of charisma, he does feel slightly muted in all but a few scenes. The show is stolen by Michael Pena as Luis, a permanently smiling member of Scott’s crew who gets the lion’s share of the laughs.
It’s important that we like these characters, as Ant-Man tells a more human story than most comic book movies, mainly focusing on fathers and daughters, whether that’s Scott’s quest to get back into his young daughter’s life after three years in prison or Hank trying to reconcile with his estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Unfortunately, much of the more dramatic dialogue is stodgily written, with exposition handled quite poorly, especially in the first 30 minutes. After that, it becomes a full-blown heist movie, and whilst that leaves it open to accusations of cliché, the motley crew and the silliness of Scott’s powers (shrinking, controlling ants) make it a whole lot of fun. We even get to see some of Hank’s Cold War superhero career in flashback, with some truly incredible de-aging effects flawlessly making Douglas look 20 years younger. Naturally for Marvel, all of the effects are top-notch, but Ant-Man’s visuals really separate themselves from most blockbusters, with the shrinking tech providing a whole new look at the everyday world, from the inside of a briefcase acting as a battle arena to a shag rug becoming a beige forest of cloth.
Rather than the final showdown taking place over an entire city, Scott takes on his nemesis (Darren Cross, played by Corey Stoll, rather forgettable) in a bedroom, weaponising a child’s train set. Scott also gets the power of embiggening otherwise small objects, which allows for a particularly brilliant sight gag. Towards the end of the film, there’s even a sequence that rivals the last moments of Interstellar in its trippiness and visual spark. The nods to the rest of the MCU will please fans, and this was the first non-Avengers Marvel movie where the shared universe actually felt shared. However, these references are a bit bittersweet, as they feel like the scenes and lines that Wright would have been fighting against before departing the film. The obligatory post-credits scenes (there are two), are actually worth sticking around for, for the first time since Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Rudd is confirmed to be a part of next year’s Civil War, which should make for a nice alteration to the established Avengers dynamic. Whilst some of the dramatic dialogue and plot stuff may fall flat, Ant-Man is still a fun, funny blockbuster that earns its place in the Marvel canon and proves that Michael Pena should do way more comedy.