Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Peyton Reed
Stars: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Michael Pena, Abby Ryder Fortson, Martin Donovan, Anthony Mackie, David Dasmalchian, T I Harris, Wood Harris, Hayley Atwell, John Slattery.
He may well be the smallest superhero in the Marvel stable, but Ant-man punches above its weight and gives the studio one of its better superhero movies. Ant-man is not as dour nor as bloated as the recent Avengers: Age Of Ultron and has a lighter tone throughout that makes it more of a crowd pleaser along the lines of last year’s Guardians Of The Galaxy.
Ant-man is an origins story of sorts for the character that was first created in 1962 as part of the original Avengers team. While Marvel has concentrated on the tentpole superheroes like Thor, Spiderman, The Hulk, Captain America, and Iron Man, he seems to have been largely forgotten.
Originally Ant-man was the crime fighting alter ego of scientist Hank Pym (played here by Michael Douglas), who had discovered something called the Pym particle, which enabled him to shrink to the size of an insect yet possess great strength and telepathically communicate with ants. But the years of using the technology have taken their toll on his body, and Pym is looking for a protege to assume the role and continue the legacy.
He sets his sights on Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd, from Anchorman, Clueless, etc), a cat burglar who has just been released after three years in prison. Lang is trying to go straight so that he can reconnect with his estranged wife and young daughter, whom he misses desperately. But unable to hold down even a part time job in a fast food restaurant because of his criminal history, Scott is soon lured back into a life of crime at the behest of Luis (Michael Pena), his former cell mate. Which is how he meets Pym.
Pym has been ousted from his own scientific reseach company by his former protege, the ambitious and ruthless Darren Cross (Corey Stoll, from Law & Order: LA and Non-stop, etc), who has been carrying out his own research to find the formula to unlock Pym’s secret. But he has more nefarious plans for the technology once it is perfected, and Pym wants Scott’s help to stop him. Thus sets in play an engaging variation on the popular heist movie genre.
After an intensive training session to adapt to his new powers and some intensive martial arts training under the tutelage of Pym’s own daughter Hop (played by Evangeline Lilly from The Hobbit trilogy, etc) Scott is ready for his new mission. He has to break into the well protected laboratory and steal the formula before Cross can sell it to the sinister Hydra organisation. Cross also uses the formula to transform himself into the evil Yellowjacket, a wasp-like villain.
There are some convincing special effects here that shrink Rudd to the size of an insect. Don’t overthink the technology or the science behind Ant-man as we have already gone down a similar path with 1957’s The Incredible Shrinking Man and Disney’s Honey I Shrunk The Kids, etc. For once though the clever CGI special effects serve the material rather than overwhelm the film.
And thankfully the climactic showdown between superhero and supervillain here doesn’t destroy whole cities ot skyscrapers; rather, in a quite inventive sequence it takes place aboard a toy train set in a child’s bedroom.
I’ve never really thought of Rudd as an action hero before as he has mainly appeared in lightweight comedic roles, but he acquits himself well in a more physically demanding role. He has an affable and likeable persona and he brings touches of self deprecating humour to his performance, which suits the character well, and he doesn’t seem to be taking it too seriously. It’s an astute piece of casting that pays dividends, just like the calculated decision to cast Robert Downey jr as Iron Man paid off big time.
Douglas was an inspired piece of casting as Pym, and he brings a touch of gravitas and his usual authority to his performance. He brings a lighter touch which is more reminiscent of earlier films in his resume like Romancing The Stone, etc. Lilly is very good as the feisty Hope, while Pena effortlessly steals scenes with his humourous antics. Bobby Cannavale rounds out the cast as Paxton, the straight laced detective who has moved into Lang’s home, and his presence brings some tension to the domestic scenes as Scott tries to reconnect with his wife Maggie (played by Judy Greer) and his cute daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson). The parallel melodramatic father/daughter subplots bring an emotional depth to the material that has been missing from most of the Marvel films. And as usual look out for a cameo from creator Stan Lee.
The director here is Peyton Reed who is better known for his work on comedies like Jim Carrey’s Yes Man and the cheerleading comedy Bring It On, but his light touch and deft handling of the material perfectly suits the comic book origins of the character. He maintains a fast pace throughout and he handles the action scenes proficiently enough.
Several writers have laboured over the script, including Edgar Wright (better known for Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, etc), who was originally intended to direct the film until a parting of the way with Marvel over creative differences; Joe Cornish (Attack The Block, etc); and Rudd himself along with Anchorman scribe Adam McKay. This accounts for the slightly uneven tone of the film.
The filmmakers have tried to position Ant-man into his rightful place in the whole Marvel/Avengers universe, with some joking references to SHIELD, Iron Man and previous Avengers movies. However, a sequence involving Falcon (Anthony Mackie) seems a little unnecessary and forced just to give another of the Marvel characters some screentime.
Nonetheless Ant-man is a great adaptation of a comic book superhero, and it is one that could easily sustain a sequel or two, especially if they are as entertaining as this one. A post credits sting seems to be hinting at some of the action in the forthcoming new Marvel film Captain America: Civil War, which will feature Rudd’s Ant-man.
Reviewed by GREG KING