At some point it is inevitable that Marvel’s run of genuinely enjoyable and hugely successful blockbusters is going to come to an end. When Edgar Wright left Ant-Man, a film he and co-writer Joe Cornish had been working on for many years, over those dreaded creative differences it seemed as if that time had arrived. On paper Ant-Man and Wright’s brand of fast-cutting, highly kinetic filmmaking seemed like a match made in heaven and the thought of someone replacing him was worrying. But does substitute director Peyton Reed manage to create a Marvellous insect infestation or is it more just a bug bear we have to tolerate until The Avengers swoop back in to action?
Worried that his shrinking technology is about to fall into the wrong hands scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) swears it will die with him. Years later Pym’s protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), working closely with Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), is close to replicating the formula so Pym must steal it back. But the years have taken their toll on Pym so he turns to recently paroled thief Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to become the Ant-Man; a superhero who can shrink to insect size, but retain his full-sized strength, and communicate with ants. Together they must stop Cross from allowing a dangerous weapon becoming the property of nasty looking men in suits.
Part of the reason Marvel’s films have found so much success is down to a formula that they stick to. The film should be directed by someone out of left-field, in this case Peyton whose CV is a mixed bag including the fun Bring It On and the forgettable Yes Man, star someone not immediately on Hollywood’s obvious A-list, in this case Paul Rudd, and stick to certain narrative beats that keep the audience not so much guessing as pleasantly entertained in the comfort of knowing what is to come. Ant-Man does all these things. Which on the surface might sound dull, but in reality is anything but.
Because after the multiple hero-ed grandeur of Avengers: Age Of Ultron Ant-Man is the perfect antidote to all things city-levelling. Credit should go to all the writers, with Wright and Cornish still taking writing credits along side Anchorman’s Adam McKay and star Paul Rudd, for conjuring a film that feels epic but on a microscopic scale. Those highlights you’ve seen in the trailer, the Thomas The Tank Engine toppling off the track in the face of vast, but actually mini-explosions, are there throughout. Ant-Man is arguably Marvel’s most inventive and indeed creative film to date. Despite the fact that it is set here on earth and involves a man who can shrink himself rather than one who can fly, turn in to a monster or is a god.
Reed brings a sense of free-flowing energy to the film, the sequences watching Scott shrink and then grow while fighting and flying around on his pet ants never grows old. But, crucially, the film never loses sight of the slightly ridiculous premise. And therein lies the key difference to some of the other Marvel films; Ant-Man never takes itself too seriously, even when dealing with the deeper themes of fathers and daughters. Any film that makes you genuinely care for an ant, in this case called Anthony, is doing something right.
Part of this is down to some typically inspired Marvel casting. Douglas does world-weary in his sleep these days but it’s been some time since we saw his more playful side. As Pym he never plays it doddering but rather eye-rollingly bemused. Lilly continues the trend set by Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow of being a brilliantly strong female character able to not just stand-up to but tower over many of her male counterparts. Michael Peña as Scott’s former cellmate and now cohort is brilliant, a perfectly placed piece of a comic-relief character he imbues the film with a child-like innocence which is near impossible not to be infected by. But the real ace up the sleeve is Paul Rudd. Because while he may be ‘flawed’, in so far as he is an ex-con, he, unlike many Marvel main characters, is always likable. There isn’t an arrogance or a cocky swagger to him and he’s certainly no boy scout, more a case of just getting on with life as best he can. His asides and comic timing make Ant-Man one of Marvel’s most outright fun films to date.
Mini it might be but Ant-Man is a huge success and a Marvel product that manages to stick to the conventional by being different. Small really is mighty.