Director: Peyton Reed
Cast: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly
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“It’s about time,” says Hope (Evangeline Lilly) in Ant-Man, as the superhero flick raises the idea of having a female don its shape-shifting suit to save the day. But that time, we learn, isn’t now, and we’re soon back in the male-driven world of Marvel blockbusting.
It’s a disappointing blow that only highlights how formulaic superhero films can be: the flawed guy trying to come good; the female love interest; the bad guy whose evil plan often involves an inversion of the good guy’s powers; the CGI-figure-versus-CGI-figure finale.
Here, the flawed guy is Scott Lang (Rudd), a thief who tries to steal from Dr. Hank Pym (Douglas), only to be caught – and, in the kind of logic that can only be found in movies, is hired by Pym to become his apprentice… and help him steal something.
The thing in question? A new suit by sinister scientist Darren Cross (House of Cards’ Corey Stoll), which has the power to change its wearer to the size of an ant. That, of course, is the technology behind Pym’s own suit, because – of course! – he was once the infamous Ant-Man, a superhero from decades ago, who has since disappeared, his identity hidden.
Scott, at first, seems like the wrong guy for the job: he’s split up from his wife, and he has a token adorable child who still loves him, despite him being a loser. Will he redeem himself and find his inner hero? There are no prizes for guessing the answer. And that’s largely the problem with Ant-Man.
The film, though, has a secret weapon: a sense of humour. We’ve seen this all before, but never this funny. That’s partly thanks to the script by Joe Cornish and Edgar Wright – who left the film abruptly mid-production, with Adam McKay and Paul Rudd stepping in to rewrite the script. It’s easy to think of the cookie-cutter end product as the result of the studio’s split with the left-field Brits, but credit should go to McKay and Rudd for maintaining the comedy you would expect from the film’s initial scribes.
The duo’s shared history of Anchorman is evident in Rudd’s naturally funny presence, as he injects the conventional plot with genuinely amusing exchanges. Even better is a scene-stealing turn from Michael Peña as his fast-talking friend, who narrates an inspired series of flashback sequences. Director Peyton Reed, meanwhile, has a wonderful grasp of the big-small dynamic of his pint-sized hero, conjuring up a string of inventive action set pieces that subvert scale with visual wit.
But all that can’t elevate Ant-Man above its formulaic trappings; every flash of originality only highlights the lack of originality elsewhere. Any chance of developing Hope’s character is engulfed by a less interesting exploration of Pym’s protective daddy complex, while a brief showdown with one of Marvel’s other characters feels slightly crow-barred in – you wonder what those 10 minutes might have been used for in a braver film. The result is an entertaining, but underwhelming entry to the Marvel canon – an offbeat adventure that fits into the wider tapestry a little too easily. For all the fun of the moment, it’s telling that you leave the film mostly remembering the sidekick, rather than the hero – and wishing that Lilly had more to do. It’s about time, the movie admits, but Marvel is only just starting to do something about it.
Ant-Man is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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Photo: Zade Rosenthal