Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Directed by: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly
After twelve films, the challenge facing every new Marvel offering has to be one of freshness. There are only so many types of threat that are different from the last, and even then, something has to be held back for the real ‘blockbusters’ in this superhero franchise – Avengers 4, 5, 6 and however many more to come. With that in mind, it’s clear from Guardians of the Galaxy, and now Ant-Man, that the answer to this is not to change the threat or the powers used to combat it, but instead the people wielding the power.
Now, we could all sit and mourn the film this might have been with Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish as the full helm and brain, but in terms of the oft-mentioned ‘tone’ that their involvement meant so much to, it’s clear from the very first moments that the team that carried the film over the line – Peyton Reed directing from script rewrites by Adam McKay and lead actor Paul Rudd – have done pretty well.
Opening on a shot of the Triskelion under construction, moving through an ominous SHIELD boardroom scene packed with cameos, and a punch in the face…and onto the familiar Marvel Studios titles, backed not by the usual fanfare but by samba music, it’s a clear, immediate sign. As befits a superhero movie, there is peril in abundance, but the film packs in a large amount of goofiness with every bit of tension. Some of it comes across as trying too hard, compensating maybe for Wright’s intuitive humour with a more simplistic ‘in-your-face’ brand, but most of the time it’s a grin that’s well earnt.While tonally the film succeeds in separating itself from the pack, the plotting seems rather similar to the film that kick-started the ‘MCU’, Iron Man. I’ll leave out any plot points not in the trailers to avoid spoilers, but you have a powered suit with an un-powered user, a tech-genius hero, and a villain who, once a colleague to the hero, now runs the company and has a far more powerful version of the same suit. Of course the blanks are filled in differently – the backstories, the motivations, the settings, yet this is symptomatic of such a focused brand of franchise going the distance.
A bigger problem though, is that there just isn’t enough of the film. Referencing an established chronology, all the while introducing a brand new cast of characters is something that needs a bit of time to do, and so a quick glance at the 117-minute running time was a worry. Seeing this timespan play out did nothing to assuage this. While in many cases, hitting the ground quickly at the start and getting straight into the main bulk can be a good thing, here it feels too slick, giving precious little scenes to establish the characters and give the cast a chance to act before they fight. Around halfway the script seems to remember this fact and slows briefly to explore the ‘who, what and whys’, but a defter hand was needed – likely a result of the ‘second-hand’ nature of the script, rather than of the particular hands penning it.
For all the issues, Ant-Man is certainly a lot of fun. The acting compensates for the lack of screen-time, and that, added to the superb CGI throughout, makes both the set pieces and the comedy work. In the lead, Paul Rudd adds flavour to every scene he’s in, making the FX shots more than just moving pixels, while in support, Michael Peña is a delight.
Where does this all fit into the Marvel Universe then? For all the talk of the film’s standalone nature – and that status was perhaps a key part of why Wright left the film – it is pretty connected, and there are a number of moments towards the end that will tie in to future films in the series.
Ant-Man isn’t perfect by the standards set by it’s own predecessors, yet its refreshing and enjoyable tone, coupled with respectable performances across the board, means that as it reaches halfway round the clock, the MCU is still going strong.