It’s the end of Marvel’s frankly incredible “Phase 2” of their ongoing cinematic universe (known as the MCU) stories, with highlights being Captain America: Winter Soldier and of course Avengers: Age of Ultron. They’ve been saving this fancy little number for last though, and it’s gone down as one of my all-time favourite Marvel movies – Ant-Man. Spoilers ahead!
In case you have been living under a rock since 2008, comic-book movies are kind of a big deal. The box-office breaking, pop-culture phenomenon that Marvel have created has taken over cinemas and TV screens in a way that’s pretty much unprecedented, and their arch rival DC Comics have been left scrambling to try the same kind of connected universe with their characters. If you haven’t quite caught up yet, you can take a gander at my first thoughts on Avengers: Age of Ultron, and then you should really get your ass into a cinema seat and watch Ant-Man.
Then you’ll come back and read the rest of this review, right? Just leave this tab open. Ok?
Are you back? Good. Let’s get on with it…
The Tiniest Hero
Update: Episode 10 of our podcast is here! Listen to us discuss the movie and our theories on what’s happening to the Avengers going forwards. But, read this first!
I said this up at the top, but there’s definitely going to be some spoilers involved, so if you want to avoid them, go elsewhere.
Ant-man is a brilliant movie which takes a smaller (no pun intended) story when compared to the constantly rising stakes of Avengers, Iron Man and other MCU properties. It’s a heist movie at its core, and is all the better for it.
Anyone who’s been following the tumultuous production will know that Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs The world) was originally tasked with directing the movie, and though he left mid last year citing “creative differences” with Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige, you can see his fingerprints still all over it. From the quick montages – something his movies are known for – to the scenes of Michael Peña’s character Luis’ retelling of how he got the tip for the job he sends recently-released-from-prison hero Scott Lang on near the beginning of the movie.
It’s kind of a shame that he didn’t finish the film, but I honestly can’t say that it suffers from a more straightforward approach than what he would provide. In fact, it’s a tribute to director Peyton Reed (previously known for Yes Man, The Break-Up and a few episodes of New Girl among other projects) that Ant-Man stands up as one of the most enjoyable pictures in the MCU, and also one of the most accessible.
Scott Lang is an incredibly likeable hero, which is entirely down to Paul Rudd being that likeable, funny, wisecracking dude we’re all used to from the actor. I never would have seen him as superhero potential, but he can punch like the best of them – and will soon be seen doing just that in Civil War, the next Captain America instalment early next year.
Joining Lang in the good-guy corner is Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym, who again isn’t somebody I would expect to sign up to a Marvel movie, but plays the character with just the amount of remorse for the past and fear for the future, should the worst happen. He’s also joined by Pym’s estranged daughter, Hope Van Dyne, played by Lost’s (and Real Robots – let’s not forget that) Evangeline Lilly who puts in an equally strong if not earth-shattering performance. Her dad’s a genius who won’t open up about how her mother died, and she works for another genius who doesn’t seem to care if incredibly dangerous tech gets into the wrong hands, so long as he gets a pay check. But more on the bad guy in a second.
The biggest laughs and major kudos go to the aforementioned Luis. Scott’s former prison buddy and friend who gets him to break into Pym’s house in the first place. His constant enthusiasm and inability to keep his stories to the point (much like this review, probably) are a brilliant way to keep the movie light-hearted and fun, and I can’t wait to see more of this character next time around. At least, I hope he comes back next time – it would be a lot less fun without him.
Darren Cross Has Daddy Issues
In the bad-guy corner is Darren Cross, played by Corey Stoll. He used to be Pym’s assistant but was never trusted with the secret of his incredible Pym Particles – a technology which can shrink both organic and inorganic matter and which made the Ant-Man suit possible. He now runs Pym’s company, and eventually works it out for himself – albeit after sacrificing a couple of lambs and a politician (or a general? I forget) in his quest to prove himself.
Naturally, he gets lost along the way. His thirst for success and his hatred for his former mentor drives him to create the Yellowjacket, a next-generation suit armed to the teeth, which he’s absolutely willing to sell to the highest bidder, no matter who they are (hello Hydra!)
There has been much talk of Marvel’s villains lately, and how badly written they are – an example being Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith in Thor: The Dark World, a character who literally could have been played by anybody with a pulse and whose characterisation was virtually non-existent. Stoll’s Darren Cross however is relatively well written, and his motivations clear. He feels betrayed by a man who he admired, and has spent his life and his genius trying to work out the secrets that were held from him. Pym had his reasons, but Cross doesn’t care.
A Very Human Hero
I think the biggest reason for Ant-Man being such an enjoyable movie is down to the relatable, human characters. Everybody in the movie is flawed, and nobody is “super”. There are no gods, and no super-soldiers. In a scene between Scott and Hope during the obligatory training montage, Hope is frustrated. Frustrated that her father won’t tell her what really happened to her mother. Frustrated that he’s chosen some ex-con cat burglar to don the suit she’s chased after for so long. That he’s chosen Scott and trusted him to save the world from Cross’s plan to flood the world with thousands of ant-sized soldiers, but not her. But it’s simple – Scott is expendable, and he knows it. Pym loves his daughter, and will do anything to keep her safe, even if that means holding the truth from her or not allowing her to don the suit.
Pym is an interesting character. Backed up by flashbacks of his glory-years of being the first Ant-Man, working for Howard Stark, Peggy Carter and SHIELD, he’s suffering the consequences of being shrunk and blown up time after time. His body can’t take it anymore, and we’ve never seen that side of our heroes. Though I won’t spoil the reason he lost his wife, Janet Van Dyne is shown in another flashback as The Wasp working alongside Hank’s Ant-Man, and he blames himself for what happened.
There’s this lovely relationship dynamic between Pym, Hope, Scott and Darren. He’s the father figure they all need, that some of them want more than others, and that they’re all pissed off with at some stage in the movie. He’s flawed, proud and bitter, and really shows the most character development in the whole picture, in my view.
A close second is Rudd’s Scott Lang. From ex-con to bona-fide world saving hero, he’s really just doing all of this for his daughter. He feels like he’s let her down and he wants to make up for the time he lost in prison. He couldn’t hold down a job at Baskin Robbins so hell, let’s break into a place and steal some stuff! It’s this paternal instinct that he shares with Hank.
Keepin’ it real small
I won’t go into specifics about the story, but once Lang is in the suit, he’s tasked with breaking into the bad guy’s facility, stealing the Yellowjacket suit and destroying the research so nobody else can shrink really tiny and beat fools down. This simple premise is presented as a heist movie, and it works perfectly. You’ve got the job, you’ve got the crew, you’ve got the.. ants?
Ants are a huge part of the movie (I know.. Don’t all gasp at once). Not only can Lang become the size of an insect, but he has the ability to control them too and he uses the little critters to pull off the job. From his trusty flying ant whom he names Anthony to a bunch of bullet ants and other species all with different uses, they’re just as much a part of the story as the human players and Lang couldn’t do the job without them. Once the heist gets started it’s a tonne of fun to see how they work as a team to get Lang to where he needs to go.
Obviously, everything goes wrong, but the playfulness of the film never falters. From Luis’ ridiculous stories to the epic fight scene based entirely in a little girl’s bedroom, it’s a joy to watch. Even the product placement is hard to fault. I mean, who wouldn’t want Disintegration by The Cure to start playing during a fight scene in a briefcase? Good work, Siri!
The way the film is shot is energetic but it’s always easy to keep up with the action. Watching Ant-Man shrink, flip a guard, then grow back to human size – all in less than a second – is thrilling and never ceases to be so. The shots of him running through humungous carpet fibres and tunnels under the garden are done brilliantly, and it boggles the mind how they managed to be so creative with every-day locations. When you’re super tiny, everything else is huge, and it looks awesome.
Marvel have a lot to live up to, and this is far from a perfect movie. That Hope and Scott get away with a quick make-out session before the end of the movie was a little disappointing (the guy doesn’t ALWAYS have to get the girl, you know? But the way it is handled in the movie makes it instantly forgivable. The first 45 minutes of the film were also fairly forgettable, save a few great scenes. But this is a Marvel movie, and the fact remains that they know how to make brilliant adaptations of their properties, and work in references to their other movies – the Triskelion, criticising the Iron Man Suit and a scene with a certain winged Avenger which is one of the highlights of the movie – that make sense.
Civil war is on May 6th 2016. I can’t wait!