Ant-Man

  

Many column inches have been given over to the fact that Edgar Wright was originally set to write and direct this film but left the project for creative reasons. This is being described as a great opportunity missed because Wright’s quirky sensibility would have certainly given as a new take on the tired Avengers formula. Of course it is very easy to criticise something against an idea of what might have been but let’s be honest, Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man was never going to happen, at least not in the way people wanted it to. It was a pipe dream and we should let it go. We certainly shouldn’t be condemning this final film for not living up to some myth. That’s like disliking a race horse because it’s not a unicorn.

In reality it seems likely that what we’d have got would have been a film totally unreflective of the director’s status as an auteur, just like when Tim Burton did his Planet of the Apes movie. Presumably Wright saw this coming and that’s why he jumped ship. No doubt when the project started, a few years ago, he might have been granted free reign but now that everything needs to fit together in to one big cinematic tapestry a little bit of studio interference was inevitable. Let’s not forget that Wright’s hyper stylised Scott Pilgrim movie did not do that well at the box office and movies are Marvel’s business not their hobby. Also let’s face it, The World’s End, the final part of Wright’s celebrated Three Colours Cornetto Trilogy, was not as good as the two films that preceded it. The man is not infallible. 

Add to this the final consideration that we got a different type of Marvel movie last year with Guardians of the Galaxy and all in all the Edgar Wright argument is going nowhere. He is still credited as a writer so some of his influence appears to remain. Let’s be happy with that, forget about it and move on. Gone with the Wind had a change of director at the last minute too you know.  

What director Peyton Reed has given us is another fun Marvel superhero film. I have to be honest, once I’d seen the Ant-Man trailer for the fifth or six time and the Thomas the Tank Engine gag had stopped being quite so funny, I began to get a slight sense of ‘here we go again’. We had a flawed hero wearing a super suit on a cathartic journey and coming up against an enemy with a similarly tooled outfit based on bastardised tech. Isn’t this where we started with Iron Man seven years ago? As it is though the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to turn out high quality action adventures with enough variety to ensure that we stay excited for the next one. For all the concerns that these films are getting a little samey what we’ve actually had is a series of films with very varied tones and elements of different genres and Ant-Man continues that trend. This one is essentially a heist flick as the hero has to break in to a high security science facility to get hold of something that in the wrong hands could destroy civilisation. 

The plot, as much as I am willing to share it beyond that, centres around Hank Pym, a retired superhero who was active in the 80s. If you are wondering why he has never been mentioned in any previous films, don’t worry they niftily answer that. Events require Pym, played by Michael Douglas, to go back into action but he is getting too old for that $#*¥ so he has to recruit a younger guy, Scott Lang, to take on his old mantle of Ant-Man. 

The role of Lang goes to Paul Rudd carrying on Marvel’s commitment to good casting and building films around character. Of course this studio also does ensemble casts really well and they excel in this area again too. Besides Douglas and Rudd there are four or five other key players with Evangeline Lilly most prominent among them. In fact in previous films you could argue that the engaging cast have had to carry some unremarkable action scenes but that isn’t the case here at all.

The Ant-Man’s thing is clearly that he can shrink to the size of said insect and this conceit gives the film some very different environments to play in. The Honey I Shrunk the Kids style novelty setting, with drops of water the size of suitcases and blades of grass as tall as lamp posts is used to great effect and the latest effects technology serves it well. There are no oversized fibreglass props here. Our hero is seen clinging on to the grooves of a vinyl record, running through deep pile rugs and dodging toy trains and it all looks totally convincing. It also provides a nice contrast to all those epic final battles with things attacking from the skies that this studio is so fond of. The closing confrontation here all takes place in one small room. 

Of course the whole film is completely preposterous and in some ways the idea of having a hero shrink to the size of an ant seems a bit much even by Marvel’s standards. Really though it is no more ridiculous than giant green rage monsters and talking raccoons. As is always the case you just go with it while you’re watching it. Being an unquestioning viewer also helps while they are pulling off the heist because I’m sure none of that makes great sense either. Actually though this is a bit of a release. When you watch something like Ocean’s 11 you try very hard to follow it so that you can satisfy yourself of how the whole thing is pulled off. When the job involves an army of mind controlled tooled up ants though you tend just to enjoy the ride.

This is what you get with Ant-Man, a very funny and highly enjoyable ride. It is easily one of the best Marvel movies and none of them are bad. The film’s initial US box office numbers are similar to those of The Incredible Hulk back in 2008 but it is not in any way a similarly flawed film. I definitely recommend it to the casual viewer and if you are loyally following all the Marvel Cinematic Universe then clearly you’ll be going already. The links to previous, and undoubtedly future, films are strong and there are more cameos from familiar faces than you’d expect. It doesn’t give too much away to say that Peggy Carter and Howard Stark are back but the list does not end there. Actually though the greatest cameo features the aforementioned Thomas the Tank Engine who plays a big part in the film. On leaving the Odeon Leicester Square last night I saw another cinema was advertising a new stand alone Thomas the Tank Engine movie so it is nice to see he is capitalising on the career boost he is getting here. It’s like Travolta’s renaissance following Pulp Fiction; expect to see the little blue train turning up in a lot of new projects over the next few years.

The Ripley Factor: 

Even though Marvel have yet to give us a female led movie (Captain Marvel is coming) there are several key women who support in individual films and link others together. Both Black Widow and Agent Carter have become mainstays of the whole series and it looks now as though Hope Van Dyne, Lilly’s character, Pym’s daughter, may be going the same way. 

In this movie she is smart, brave, headstrong, tough and noble; everything you’d want a role model to be. Importantly she is also key to the story and moves events along. She may not be in the suit but she is the match of anyone else on screen and it is clear that this movie has introduced more than one hero to the Avengers roster.

In fact as much as it is a heist film, this is a family drama concentrating heavily on the relationships between fathers and daughters. Females play a big part. Hope’s late mother is also significant to the narrative and it is clear that she was as dauntless as her little girl turns out to be.

It’s always nice to see Peggy Carter too.

Is this one for the kids?

The violence seems a little dialled down from previous Marvel films apart from one scene which isn’t graphic, it’s just a bit nasty. I’ll just say that when the shrinking technology doesn’t work it has rather an unfortunate effect on a person. 

Ant-Man is a 12A but it would have absolutely been a PG before that certificate was introduced. There is some swearing and oblique sex references but nothing too worrying.

Besides, anything that introduces young audiences to the music of The Cure can only be good news.

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