From Gods to billionaires, intergalactic anthropomorphic animals to highly trained field operatives and super soldiers from another time; Marvel has pretty much covered all its bases when it comes to creating superheroes. So, it comes as no surprise, that its latest feature Ant-Man was initially met with equal intrigue and suspicion. Plagued with a myriad of pre-production problems, including numerous production delays, the departure of writer/director Edgar Wright, his writing partner Joe Cornish and director of photography Bill Pope, it would be easy to assume that Ant-Man would succumb under the weight of audience and critic expectations. However, just as they surprised audiences last year with Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel Studio’s Ant-Man proves once again just how much of a powerhouse this studio really is when it comes to world building, creating a strong stand-alone entry in the studio’s ever expanding universe, whilst setting a great foundation for the Phase Three movies to come.
Continuing on from Avengers: Age of Ultron, Marvel’s Ant-Man follows the story of ex-con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a recent parolee who is trying to get his life back on the straight and narrow in an attempt to impress his daughter (the ridiculously cute Abby Ryder Fortson). Lang is recruited by renowned scientist Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who, along with daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), is trying to safeguard the Pym Particle formula, a dangerous and powerful bit of technology that has the ability to modify atoms to shrink and grow at will. The most dangerous of the threats to this technology is current Pym Technology CEO and Pym’s former mentee Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who is dangerously close to replicating the formula for himself.
Despite their departure, the original concepts of Edgar Wright and writing partner Joe Cornish (who do pick up story and screenplay credits) still seem well instilled in the film’s creative process. Indeed, much of the humour derived from the plot would be well at home in an Edgar Wright creation. Taking over as scriptwriters, star Paul Rudd and his writing partner Adam McKay (who is also a frequent collaborator with Will Ferrell) do justice to the original idea that their previous collaborators had in mind, infusing Ant-Man’s story with a distinct sense of heart, humour and action. This deft mix of action and comedy is well balanced by first-time Marvel director Peyton Reed, whose previous credits include Yes Man, The Break-Up and cult favourite Bring It On. Here, Reed offers a decidedly fresh perspective on the typical action movie and adds his own unique stamp to the existing concept of Ant-Man that has been worked on for so many years.
Unsurprisingly, a large part of the movie’s success undeniably comes down to its cast. The casting in this movie is nothing short of superb. As the convict turned good guy, Paul Rudd is perfectly cast as the dry and droll Scott Lang. Rudd perfectly embodies the ‘everyman’ quality that makes Lang such an accessible and loved character in the comics. His commitment to his family and his innate sense of justice, although perhaps somewhat misplaced, is a character trait that many an audience member will easily identify and empathize with. Likewise, as his co-star and character’s mentor, Michael Douglas makes a fine Dr. Hank Pym. Like Rudd, Douglas is also making his first big superhero movie debut and together they both look like they are having a hell of a time. There is an incredible but subtle duality that underlies these characters’ stories and ties them even closer together as the movie progresses. The chemistry between Rudd and Douglas lights up the screen and gives their mentor/mentee relationship an added air of authenticity.
The paring of Rudd and Douglas is rounded out by an equally impressive cast. As Pym’s somewhat estranged daughter Hope, Evangeline Lilly brings a strong emotional center to the film. Although this movie has a clear grounding as a heist movie, it is also a multifaceted character drama driven mostly by Lilly’s nuanced performance and the complex relationships she has with the men around her. Lilly holds her own in a mostly male cast and her characterisation as a strong and determined female character is a testament to both her performance and the depth of the script. Bringing welcome comic relief, Lang’s heist team headed up by former cellmate Luis (Michael Peña) and ring-ins Dave (Tip ‘T.I’ Harris) and Kurt (David Dastmalchian) are as likeable and relatable as Lang himself. Peña, in particular, shines as Lang’s comical sidekick, generating some of the film’s biggest laughs and a truly confusing and hilarious conclusion to the film. Special mention should also be made to Bobby Cannavale’s Paxton, who brings a nice groundedness and dimension to what could have easily been a throwaway character.
Similarly, it is great to see an actor as talented and underrated as Corey Stoll step out onto the big screen. In what is arguably his biggest role yet, Stoll brings all of his acting game to his use-once-and-throwaway role as villain Yellowjacket, but to no avail. Sadly, as we have almost come to expect with Marvel’s villains, Stoll’s Darren Cross is sorely lacking in depth and dimension. Suffering from a clear lack of motivation, his villainy is mostly explained through exposition and even then still seems somewhat ridiculous. Whilst Cross is threatening as a villain, this is mostly thanks to Stoll’s performance, and his character as a whole is noticeably undeveloped, especially when you compare it to the depth of character that is given to the rest of the cast. Less contrived, however, are the scenes involving Rudd and Stoll playing off each other, particularly during the amazing action sequences throughout the movie. The two have good competitive cat-and-mouse chemistry, which boosts the sense of tension between them that drives the film’s explosive action scenes.
Indeed, it is in these visuals and action sequences that Ant-Man truly does shine. Shot with a mix of green screen, macro photography and motion capture technology; Ant-Man is a visually stunning, incredibly creative and clever film. In both human and shrunken size, cinematographer Russell Carpenter gives a lot of attention to Point-of-View shooting, which gives the viewer an added appreciation of the character’s environment and surroundings. This is particularly important for the film as it jumps from shrunken to human size quickly, doing so with ease and confidence, particularly within its action sequences. The action in Ant-Man, just like its hero, is big, loud and explosive. Well-scripted and well shot, the sequences are second to none and easily one of its key strengths – especially in 3D.
In what is probably a first for a Marvel Studios feature, the use of 3D in Ant-Man adds great visual depth to the film. As Lang frequently zips from ant to human size and back again, the film makes good use of its 3D technology to help make that transition seamless. Likewise, when Ant-Man is ant size, the 3D is a beautiful visual aid to get an understanding of his place in the world in comparison to everything around him. This added depth is particularly useful and evident the first time Lang changes size, and again in one of the more important ant sequences in the third act. In fact, I genuinely recommend that viewers check Ant-Man out in 3D if they have the option, even if it isn’t your usual jam.
One of the biggest action blockbusters to hit your screen this year, Marvel’s Ant-Man is the little film that could, and did. Big on heart, big on laughs and big on action, this is easily one of the most accessible, relatable and enjoyable films the studio has produced. Boosted by a strong cast, a well-written and rounded script, impressive visuals and larger-than-life action sequences, the films 117 minutes of runtime literally just fly by.
As an entry film into the Ant-Man character, Marvel’s Ant-Man cleverly and intricately weaves enough of the character’s history and origin into its story to get you interested and up-to-date whilst still building a solid foundation for the character in future movies – and the cinematic universe as a whole. Cementing the ongoing success and continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we head into the exciting new territory of Phase Three, Marvel’s Ant-Man is a truly exhilarating ride for fans and newcomers alike. Movies don’t get any bigger than this!
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10