Film Review: Ant-Man (PG, USA, 2015)

Trailing behind the release of the enormous The Avengers: Age of Ultron comes the final film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 2 line up of films, Ant-Man. After much talk surrounding the production prior to its release, and always ongoing questions of ‘what if’ we’re now witness to the final product. It’s surprisingly small scale in comparison to Age of Ultron and in some ways this works both for and against the film.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has just gotten out of jail after serving time for burglary. He’s decided he wants to go straight and try to legitimately earn a living so he can support his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson) and appease his ex-wife (Judy Greer). However he’s not having much luck, until his buddy Luis (Michael Pena) tips him off about a robbery job. When the job goes pear shaped, Lang finds himself caught in a much larger case of corporate espionage and a power struggle between PYM Industries founder Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his protégé turned nemesis Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Pym has invented a suit that enables the wearer to shrink down to the size of an insect which exponentially increases the person’s strength and speed (the very suit that Lang stole and tried to return earlier), however Cross has exploited Pym’s research to weaponise the suit and wants to sell it to the highest bidder for war-related purposes. Pym must recruit Lang to steal the weaponised suit from Cross, and also destroy all his research in order to ensure everybody’s safety.

So like many MCU films that have come before, there’s always an element of science-fiction involved, which stands to reason since they’re comic book based. However this film leans less on the sci-fi and more on the realistic aspects and themes. The film boils down to being a heist movie, with our protagonist having to learn the ropes of being a hero in order to save the day – if by saving that means breaking into a place and stealing some stuff. It at times feels a little pedestrian and simple but that’s probably because we’ve been spoilt by films that have more large-scale global consequences on the line. In Ant-Man it’s less about the big picture and more about Lang’s drive to try to do the right thing so he can win his daughter back. And for Pym to be able to stick it to Cross coz clearly Cross is up to no good and is a jerk for ousting Pym from his own company. The film is driven by the relationships, that between father and daughter, between Lang and his daughter Cassie and also Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). But also that between mentor and mentee, as Pym tries to teach Lang how to master the Ant-Man suit, there’s a distinct feel of passing the torch going on here as well. Pym and Lang need each other, not only to succeed in their mission but to also grow emotionally.

Paul Rudd is charming, relatable and believable and it’s hard to think that they could have even considered anybody else for this role. Michael Douglas looks like he’s just having a blast the entire time, with a constant wry smile and in between his dead pan science-terminology littered deliveries there are the quick quips of Pym’s acerbic humour. His onscreen rapport with Rudd is brilliant and credible as mentor and mentee. Corey Stoll is a deliciously wicked and maniacal Cross, there’s a glint in his eye that just sends little chills down your spine and he’s the sort of guy you love to hate. Evangeline Lilly’s character served a rather modest purpose but didn’t seem to rise to anything special and her eventual romantic hook up with Lang felt a little tacked-on and obvious. Also the threesome of Michael Pena, Tip ‘T.I’ Harris and David Dastmalchian provided some great comic relief but in the grand scheme of things were unnecessary aside from being Lang’s support crew in getting the robbery job done. Bonus points for having old Howard Stark played by John Slattery and Peggy Carter’s Hayley Atwell in old-makeup show up and make a backstory exposition scene interesting.

It’s fairly well known that Edgar Wright was supposed to direct the film and after his departure Peyton Reed (Yes Man, The Break Up) took up the mantle. Surprisingly Wright still retains story writing credits, alongside Joe Cornish, whilst Adam McKay and Paul Rudd get additional screenplay credit. But it does somehow feel like the silliness and ridiculousness and OTT that Wright could or would have injected into the film got a little tamed down. That’s not to say that the film isn’t silly. But it felt more like procedure and less like play through the majority of the film. There are of course a few good visual puns though and they’ll get a physical guffaw out of you. We also get a-bit-more-than-a-cameo by an Avenger and I won’t spoil who or what happens. But there’s no real mystery, everything we need to know and the narrative plan is laid out early into the film. With the standard “getting prepared for the heist” montage, then the heist itself almost being a little anti-climactic since the battle with Yellowjacket comes straight after.

However there’s no denying that the special effects and VFX and all the wizardry that puts us in Lang’s shoes so to speak and gives us a look into Ant Man’s view are breathtakingly cool. This ain’t no hokey Honey I Shrunk The Kids this actually feels as realistic as you can get when you know it’s all the magic of cinema. Using a combination of macro photography, motion capture and miniature sets they’ve managed to really bring that unique perspective to life on the big screen. There’s also the suit’s ability to be able to get Lang to control hordes of ants, which look amazing onscreen as they come to his aid in the thousands. Plus the iconic riding of the flying ant gets worthy screentime. And let’s not forget the ridiculously cool looking vintage “motorbike suit” that is the Ant-Man suit and helmet. The costume department ended up building 13 suits and 17 helmets, with each suit having over 159 LED lights built in. All of this pays off by making it look and feel as real and genuine as possible.

Ant-Man is a fun romp of a heist movie, and Paul Rudd definitely kicks ass both in a serious and comedic way. The film is not as brilliant as some of its MCU predecessors however it’s definitely not their worst offering either. With a PG rating this will be sure to easily rope the young kids in to come check it out and who are we kidding, there’s going to be plenty of people who will go see it just because it’s Marvel. And our PSA to you all is to make sure you stay to the very end of the credits as there is both a mid-credit and post credit scene to drop more clues for future Marvel releases.

Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 117 minutes

Ant-Man is released in Australian cinemas 17th July 2015 through Disney Pictures Australia and Marvel