First of all I’m calling a moratorium on any amusing wordplay around ‘diminishing returns’, ‘microscopic interest’ or ‘miniscule ambition’, as every review has the potential to defer to whimsy around what has to be one of the least anticipated superhero movies of the recent renaissance. Nevertheless the Marvel juggernaut continues with the peripheral figures of the multiverse stealing their personal two hours as the center of attention, although Hank Pym is an important figure for his creations and relations I think it’s fair to say the character of Ant-Man was never a top-tier titan. The film is also burdened with the inevitable albatross of ‘well, it’s not as good as Edgar Wright’s version would have been’, as after many years of development difficulties he evidently couldn’t reconcile his vision with the omnipresent will of uber-producer Kevin Feigh, with dramedy director Peyton Reed swiftly recruited for tyrannical Jodhpur and riding crop duties. So the second MCU film of the year anxiously infiltrates cinemas amidst a climate of superhero fatigue, even before the plethora of San Diego Comic Con material was dragged blinking into the sun, with many observers predicting that this will be the film where Marvel finally falters. It doesn’t falter but it doesn’t exactly soar either, as this is another distracting and faintly amusing addition to the canon which won’t set box office or fan assisted flame wars ablaze, but there are worse ways to lose a couple of hours in a multiplex this summer.
Our hero this time is incarnated by the ever avuncular (and seemingly immortal) Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, a roguish and harmless ne’er do well who has a regrettable habit of burglary and theft but its OK – he only steals from billionaires whom are ripping off their customers so he’s not, like, a total dick or anything. His criminal path covertly crosses with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the retired CEO of Pym Enterprises which now rests in the control of his former protégé turned megalomaniac chairman Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), another unfortunate addition to the rather diminutive rogues gallery of Marvel super villains. Cross has secretly plundered the companies resources into the development of the Yellowjacket weapon, a super-suit designed to shrink combatants to lethally miniscule dimensions. Fortunately Pym’s daughter Hope (a Louise Brooks bobbed Evangeline Lilly) still has some insider insight into these sleazy shenanigans, so they hatch a plan to recruit Lang to their world saving mission, utilizing Pym’s original Ant-Man machinery to infiltrate the well guarded HQ and prevent the technology from falling into multi-appended dangerous hands….
Ant-Man is everything you expect from its trailer tinted carapace – certainly no more, defiantly no less. It’s formulaic to the modern superhero synchronization, the broad brush archetypes of motivation and mobilization – all Lang wants to do his prove himself as a good guy given his tarnished past and win back the praise of his faintly estranged young daughter. If that sounds like damning with faint praise then I’m not being entirely fair, as this is a reasonable enough throwaway roller coaster ride of gentle humor, hectic heroics and breathless pacing, with just about the appropriate mix of lightweight whimsy and confederated combat to underpin the perfunctory plot. There is a theory doing the rounds that the MCU genetically engineers sub-genres onto its superheroic cladding, with the Thor movies being subversive family dramas, the Captain America films being period romps and paranoid thrillers respectively, with The Avengers being the traditional blockbuster team-up apotheosis of the franchise that urgently ups the ante to Armageddon threatening theatre. If so then Ant-Man is the heist film entry, a corporate espionage picture which shades the simulacrum within a macro level ambition, and for once it’s actually quite refreshing not to indulge in yet another cataclysmic fate of the omniverse and instead play on a canvass mapped to a much more personalized playing field.
For me the film was salvaged from the predictable plotting and that standardized Marvel phosphorescent visual sheen which associates all the films as being struck from the same digital cloth, rescued from another exasperated cinema visit by a compelling treatment of the titular heroes uniquely insignificant powers and the telepathic mastery of his Hymenopterian allies. Ant-Man is mildly ambitious with its cerebral invention of Pym’s dimension warping powers and quite clever in toying with the intrinsic possibilities of Pym molecular manipulating technology, especially in the context of infiltration, and there is much fun to be had with taking on a phalanx of henchmen whose size doesn’t equal a threatening stature. There are core sequences that scream of Joe Cornish’s and Edgar Wrights original influence, including a few dexterous whip -pan montages and one musical comedy moment which is pure joy from my generations Goth generated glee – you’ll know it when you Siri-it. The finale shrinks to a climax of The Incredible Shrinking Man dimensions but then pulls away from any quantum quizzical queries, it’s a shame as this is where the film could have struggled free of its four quadrant appeasing shackles, and you can almost hear the executives complaints of alienating the soccer mom and unimaginative teenage crowd echoing around the picture, downplaying any of that ‘weird stuff’ in favor of traditional equilibrium reaffirming techniques. As usual be sure to stick around for a post credit sting, and never was the phrase ‘sting’ more appropriately apt, but if you didn’t see this development coming from the trailer alone then you haven’t been paying attention to the constant urge to introduce further characters from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s multifaceted multiverse*. Ant-Man is no classic but in a summer stained with franchise failures (Jurassic World, Terminator Genysis) this a competent if not completely celebratory addition to the worlds most populous franchise, so roll-on with 2016’s phase three and that Dr. Strange movie – by the crimson bands of cyttorak its gonna take some maleficent magic to pull that project off;
* *Ok, now I’ve finished my review and can trawl the web for other opinions apparently there are two ‘extras’, one mid-credit and one right at the end. This affectation is really getting tedious now…..