With every major Hollywood studio now firmly aboard the comic book movie bandwagon, it’s little wonder audiences are starting to talk of superhero fatigue. From Marvel’s ever expanding shared universe that traverses both film and TV to DC’s newly announced plans to make at least two superhero movies a year from 2016, our screens are crammed with characters possessing superpowers or uncanny abilities of some kind and moviegoers are understandably beginning to feel a little topped out by the pile-up.
This was most evident with the Avengers’ most recent outing, Age of Ultron, which, although a huge box office hit, drew criticism for its bloated cast and over-reliance on hackneyed action sequences. Clearly, the studio was in need of fresh lick of invention.
It’s perhaps surprising, then, that Marvel should bestow such a mammoth task upon the miniature shoulders of its newest recruit, Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man, an ex-con who possesses a high-tech suit that can shrink the wearer to the size of an insect. But while, much like its titular hero, Ant-Man isn’t the biggest or most impressive superhero movie, it is a fleet-footed heist caper that delivers laughs and slick action thrills on a suitably smaller scale to the other Marvel behemoths, and feels all the lighter and fresher for it.
Paul Rudd plays Lang, a desperate petty thief who is recruited by reclusive genius Hank Pym (Douglas) and his daughter Hope van Dyne (Lilly) to execute a daring heist that will prevent Pym’s former mentor Darren Cross (Stoll) from replicating the Ant-Man technology and using it as a weapon for evil. Seeing it as his final chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his estranged daughter Cassie, Lang agrees to don the mantle of Marvel’s teeniest hero.
The story is, admittedly, a predictable origin story in which Lang learns how to use the suit, and in the process what it means to be a hero, before facing-off against a villain who uses similar abilities for evil. But this simplicity works in the film’s favour, leaving more room for the franchise’s trademark wry humour, and with Rudd and Anchorman’s Adam McKay part of the script writing team, Ant-Man might just be the funniest Marvel movie yet.
The cast is well equipped with snappy one-liners that take down the ridiculousness of Lang’s situation whilst also poking fun at the wider MCU (including a well-timed gag about the studio’s over-reliance on city-smashing climaxes). Meanwhile, director Peyton Reed deftly infuses the Shrinking-man action with smart visuals gags with the standout scene intercutting between a ferocious micro battle across a train line and the less impressive shot of a toy Thomas the Tank Engine chugging merrily along the track.
Peyton also gives the film’s action sequences a unique visual flavour; utilising macro photography and motion capture to create epic, otherworldly landscapes out of unexpected places. With such inventive settings as a scrap inside a locked suitcase and a chase through a paper-mache city, the action here is imaginative, exhilarating and more than a match for anything its bigger Marvel buddies can muster.
Rudd is a surprising revelation as scruffy, street-wise crook Lang. Much like Tony Stark and Peter Quill before him, Lang is not an obvious candidate for heroism: he’s a repeat offender who’s spent time in prison and is a fairly useless father. Yet, despite his propensity to commit unsavoury acts, Lang is a likeable and thoroughly rootable hero, largely thanks to Rudd’s charming performance, grinning cheekily through the comedic moments and convincing as a father desperate to repair his relationship with his daughter, ensuring we’re fully invested in his redemption.
Where Ant-Man falters is in the use of its supporting cast. While Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly having a winning father-daughter chemistry that helps to sell their characters’ cliché-riddled family melodrama, Stoll is given little to work with, as the motivation behind Cross/Yellowjacket’s villainy is never fully explained.
Likewise, it’s hard not to be frustrated with the racial stereotypes present in Lang’s crew (a Russian computer hacker, really?), who exist as unnecessary comic relief in a film that’s already plenty funny, and The Falcon’s (Anthony Mackie) superfluous scene feels like a distracting attempt to link the story back to the Avengers.
These are but minor quibbles, however. Despite its rocky road through production – Edgar Wright was original slated to write and direct only to withdraw close to the start of filming due to creative differences – Ant-Man is an assured and effective origin story that acts as a delightfully playful palette cleanser to the larger Marvel machine. Sometimes less really can be more.
Runtime: 117mins; Genre: Action/Sci-Fi; Released: 17 July 2015;
Director: Peyton Reed; Writers: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd;
Cast: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll
Click here to watch the trailer for Ant-Man