Ant-Man is the latest in a long line of Marvel Cinematic Universe films people decided would be rubbish before it was released only to be proven wrong. Have I spoiled that the film is actually really quite good with that first sentence? Yes. Yes I have. Please do read the rest of this review though, despite my conclusion being all up front and stuff. I just feel it’s worth pointing out early on that Ant-Man is good and you should probably see it. Now I’ll tell you why and stuff.
So there’s going to be a few minor spoilers in this review. It’s just a few things worth pointing out for the sake of quality effects work or where story elements were shifted from what was likely in Edgar Wright’s original script. The first spoiler is how the film opens. I just want to discuss the digital Michael Douglas in the room. By which I mean the film opens with a scene featuring a near perfect 1989 Michael Douglas (as Hank Pym) in a meeting at the, at that time, still under construction Triskelion. It’s a pretty damn impressive effect. A few years back Tron Legacy presented a CGI, motion captured, early 80’s Jeff Bridges in the Clu character. It was a cool effect but hit that weird uncanny valley spot. That said, the film was set in a digital world so it was kind of in context when you think about it. This is full blown War of the Roses era Michael Douglas looking just like he did back then. Some of the lip animation is a little off, but that stuff is nigh on impossible to get right, but man… this is a great effect. Kinda makes you wonder if they’d do a Cold War era Ant-Man film with a fully digitally crafted young Hank Pym. I’d be up for that.
The film’s plot essentially follows a heist film format. One guy (in this case Hank Pym) needs some shit stolen and so he works on getting a team together to do that. The most key member of that team is career criminal attempting to go straight Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). He’s recently been released from San Quentin Prison and is having a hard time going straight. He hears about a weird old guy with a safe in his basement and agrees to do this one job with his gang. In that safe he finds a suit, the Ant-Man suit. Not knowing what it is he tries it on, hits the shrink button, freaks the hell out and chucks it straight back where it came from. Eventually Hank Pym gets hold of Scott and sets up his plan. You see, Hank’s former understudy, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), is very close to figuring out a way to recreate the Pym Particles that powered Hank’s shrinking suit. This would be bad for the world. Especially as cross intends to turn the suit into a weapon. The sort of weapon Hydra would enjoy playing around with.
There’s a fair bit more to the story. Hank’s lost wife, who he’d believes could possibly be recovered from the sub-atomic world she shrunk into. That leads to his unwillingness to allow his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) to use the Ant-Man suit despite being very capable. A lot more capable that Scott is early on that’s for sure. There’s also a nice grounding sub-plot involving Scott just wanting to be there for his daughter Cassie (Abby Rider Fortson). One thing that really stood out in this film was that, for the first time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we have a hero character in Scott Lang that is a lot more in the regular world than before. He’s a smart guy, sure, but he’s no Tony Stark. He isn’t a billionaire, a God, a super soldier or a hulk. He’s just a pretty good thief that has access to a powerful weapon and the moral compass to use it properly. He struggles to get good at using the suit too. The middle act of the film is almost entirely him learning how to control ants, how to leap through keyholes and how to throw a proper punch. Remember how Steve Rogers got the super soldier serum and was instantly an incredible fighter? None of that here.
One thing that is very apparent during Ant-Man is that the dialogue is pure Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish. Lots of subverted expectations. Lots of smash cut juxtaposition. Lots of absurdist humour from simple, everyday, objects. Another thing that’s apparent is that the director, Peyton Reed, doesn’t quite get the pacing of those jokes. He’s close, but the timing can be a little off. The film is genuinely funny though, especially when it comes to Scott’s pal Luis (Michael Pena) explaining the story behind the jobs they’re about to take on. Sure Scott’s team are a group of racial caricatures, but they’re handled with love and not the slightest hint of malice. Unlike say every non-white character ever in a Michael Bay film. Peyton Reed comes from a strict comedy film background, but it’s a fairly standard comedy background. He doesn’t quite have the sharpness in his direction Wright has. Plus, Edgar Wright is quite a great action director too. Peyton does a pretty decent job with the action scenes, utilising Ant-man’s skills in every possible way, but it’s executed with little style. I saw the film in 2D though and, provided the 3D is done well, those scenes could easily gain a little something extra. They’re certainly shot with 3D very much in mind.
Related to the action scenes and their use of 3D, the miniature world Reed has visualised is exceptionally well done. Small details such as dirt, scum and even hair have been modelled to show that layer of the world we pretend we cleaned properly but really didn’t. The ants know we didn’t clean properly. They know. There’s some, again, very Edgar Wright-ish moments where the action takes place in a location that allows for some clever riffing off action tropes. For example, in one scene Scott is running across a scale plastic model of the building he’s in as guards are shooting at him. The plastic cars, trees and buildings are being torn apart by the bullets, that are bigger than Scott currently is, in a scene that recalls many a World War II film where the soldiers are being shelled unrelentingly. There’s even a leap off a tiny plastic building as it is shattered apart by gunfire.
I’ve probably given Wright and Cornish enough credit for the film here. One thing that surely must be Reed, and Marvel, is the cameo from a certain Avenger of the winged variety. So spoilers… it’s Falcon baby! So before Scott goes onto the main heist he has to do a smaller heist to retrieve a MacGuffin from an old Tony Stark storage facility. Except it’s not a storage facility anymore. It’s kind of the new Avengers HQ. Wright apparently left due to Marvel wanting more of their expanded film universe worked in, so I’ve got to believe this was added after he left. Whilst the purpose of the scene, to fully test out Scott’s skills as Ant-man, could have taken place in any location, the superhero fight that ensures is one of the best and funniest in the film. There’s a good understanding of both character’s abilities, and also, how they can be used for humours effect. Such as Falcon unloading his guns whilst flying backwards hoping to hot Scott whilst Scott is busy running up the guns to deliver a good ant sized leaping punch.
The film’s constant attempts to surprise you with it’s humour and where the action goes helps make Ant-man quite the entertaining heist film. There’s maybe a bit too much expanded lore stuff worked in there but it’s all done in small smatterings of info that doesn’t really interfere. The film goes pretty balls out trippy towards the end, which was nice to see as Marvel hasn’t really done anything that out there yet. They’ll have to when Dr Strange comes out for sure. Music, other than some smart song choices, is largely (pun not intended) forgettable. I seriously can’t remember the theme at all. Yellowjacket/Darren Cross is crazy bald Marvel villain 15. It’s certainly not the best Marvel film, but, it’s a damn fine one and better than most. I’d say it’s comparable to the first Iron Man film. It actually feels quite fresh and doesn’t follow the scale (again, pun not intended) of the preceding films. Hell, Thomas The Tank Engine is a central part of the film’s finale. That’s amazing. In all, Ant-man is very much worth going to see. If nothing else you’ll get a few chuckles and will get to see a miniature world the likes of which haven’t been seen since Honey I Shrunk The Kids.
Oh, also, Michael Douglas is excellent in this. Really just want to mention that. Seriously, I want Cold War era Ant-man with young digital Douglas in production now please.