Superhero flicks are a dime-a-dozen nowadays, what between the DC, Marvel, Fox and Sony studios duking it out over who has the best visual effects, box-office ratings and big name actors. Such films, in a constant effort to be the latest and the greatest, have arguably reached past the point of their once lauded strength, honour and humanity, and are instead verging on the precipice of the extreme, whereby they have left audiences not simply accustomed too, but now expecting, entire cities to burn and be demolished in the name of entertainment. That is why it’s such a great pleasure when we see a studio go back to its roots and provide a big budget superhero escapade that focuses more on heart than action. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it is truly filmmaking at its finest. Something which Marvel may have just achieved with their most recent release; the Peyton Reed helmed Ant-Man (2015).
The film itself follows Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a good-natured burglar (he’s not a thief – that would admit violence) who is devoted to his daughter Cassie. However, upon his release from prison he is unable to visit her, due to a backlog of unpaid child support and notions of being a not so responsible parent. All of which leads him to take part in one final heist. Little does he know that the man whom he sets out to rob, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), is pulling the strings to get him there, and before long he finds himself roped into a mad-scheme involving shrinking suits, and a whole lot of running into doors (and fists). Rudd gives a great performance in one of his first dramatic roles, pulling off the fatherly love, and leading man status with aplomb, and Douglas is also in fine form as the reclusive inventor, straddling both the humour and darkness that his character demands. Corey Stoll, our villainous Yellow Jacket has far less to work with though, and his character certainly suffers from a sense of one dimensionality. All too often are we waiting for him to go off the rails, and when it finally comes it never really satisfies.
However, there is respite in the form of a well-placed cameo, one which helps to continue the development of a lesser Avenger’s character, for whom we are now eagerly awaiting to see Ant-Man team up with again come Captain America: Civil War (2016). But at the end of the day, it is without a doubt the scene-stealing performance of Michael Pena that gives the film its quirkiness, and helps set it aside from any old superhero film. Unlike anything we’ve really seen him do before; Pena’s Luis grounds the picture, as the manifestation of that one friend we all know we have. You know, the one you’ll catch up with at the pub, or consider as your wingman, but under no circumstance will invite round to the house to have dinner, or babysit the kids. If Ant-Man is the standard to go by, we certainly wouldn’t mind seeing him in more comedy roles in the future.
After the complete and utter havoc that was wrought in the grandiose Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Marvel has toned down the violence and destruction (one could say miniaturised it) for their latest feature, and in the process have created a beautiful homage to the Superhero films of old. We have the classic archetypes of the grouchy older mentor, the younger wayward protégée, and the beautiful-but-sarcastic love interest. We even have the goofy but lovable sidekicks, and the stereotypical training montage. And of course there is the heist-like caper to save the day. Yes, nowhere in there is any sense of a new plot device, but to its benefit, Ant-Man holds one thing over every other Superhero movie out there at the moment – its scale. And what a beautiful picture it paints. Instead of cities being dropped from the sky, we receive toy trains being thrown across their tracks. Instead of mid-air jet plane attacks, we have a fight contained to the inside of a briefcase. And instead of calling in the Avengers, we get the Ant-vengers, a gang of insects that really do steal the show. Ant-Man shows us that sometimes you don’t have to be big to be bold.
Despite working from jagged rewrites, and a notoriously difficult concept (there’s a reason Marvel waited until the end of Phase 2 to bring the small guy to screen), Peyton Reed does what he can with the characters and story he was given; choosing to bring the action smaller, the humour bigger, and the simplicity to the fore. It does take the film a while to find its feet though, and it is not until about twenty minutes into the film when we see Lang shrink for the first time, that the film actually starts to pick up the pace and interest. At times, the slowness and lack of gender originality (the only strong female character, Hope, does barely anything when you think about it) makes us feel just like Lang, asking one question that turns in to four; “Who are you? Who is she? What is going on? And can I go back to jail now?” However, one of the perks of Ant-Man is that this slowness makes it easy enough to follow, explaining the science and background without ever looking down on us. We learn about the Pym technology as Lang does – through the eyes of the everyman. For once the character and audience are almost the same in the Marvel Universe.
Ultimately, what works so well for Ant-Man is that it never pretends to be anything that it’s not. It is without doubt the underdog of Marvel films, it always has been; coming from one of the most disliked characters and storylines, and consistently having problems finding writers, directors and cast members. But thankfully it never took it lying down, turning the tables and making something of itself. It doesn’t just show us how it feels to be reduced to one of the ants beneath our feet; it reminds us that we are all there sometimes, and that we can all come back from it. It may not be Marvel’s biggest champion piece, but it’s certainly one of its most human.
Rating: 4 ants out of 5
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