Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
It’s strange how quick so many people have been to dismiss Ant-Man ahead of its release. All of the claims about the character being too ridiculous and obscure appear flawed in the face of the fact that it’s a product of the same studio that managed to triumph with a movie revolving around a self-aware tree and a talking raccoon. One would think that Marvel have earned the benefit of the doubt by now and their latest theatrical outing certainly shows that they deserve it.
Ant-Man is one of the best and most refreshing superhero movies that has hit screens since Captain America was successfully rejuvenated for the modern age. Much like The First Avenger, one of its most engaging attributes is that it is largely a departure from the norms of the genre. For starters, this is not your typical origin account. It’s a passing of the torch tale, which gives both the film itself and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole some very interesting backstory.
Any assumptions that Peyton Reed’s contribution to the MCU is going to seem too far removed from what’s come before it are very much mistaken. This slots into the wider world in which it exists as seamlessly as any of its predecessors. There are enough references and Easter eggs to make Ant-Man feel like a very natural fit for the current continuity, as well as an appropriate bridge between Age of Ultron and Civil War.
Ties to other adventures aside though, first and foremost this is an incredibly enthralling standalone story that moves Marvel into the realm of a heist caper. The plot follows ex-con Scott Lang as he’s recruited to take over the former mantle of enigmatic entrepreneur Hank Pym, with the goal of retrieving technology that an opportunistic protégé has stolen. And while the trailers poked fun at the concept of a man who shrinks to achieve superhuman strength, the film itself most certainly does not.
That isn’t to say that Ant-Man is devoid of the tongue-in-cheek tone and lighthearted one-liners that have become so associated with Marvel movies. In fact, the humour here works a lot better than in any other MCU entry. It rarely, if ever, falls flat and more often than not evokes genuine laughter. The jokes are inserted in a way that feels organic to the moment so that they don’t compromise the seriousness of the narrative. The result is that, despite its comedic undertones, the story sells the notion of an insect-sized superhero in a completely credible way.
This allows for some of the most unique and exhilarating action sequences ever seen in a comic book movie. The technique of having the protagonist shifting in size while taking on assailants is absolutely astounding. It keeps the set pieces captivating as the superb special effects take us through environments and encounters unlike any exhibited in previous pieces of this persuasion. It also delivers what is perhaps the greatest climactic confrontation of any of Marvel’s individual excursions to date.
As always though, a story is only as good as its principal participants and Ant-Man features some of the most charismatic characters to have appeared in the MCU yet.
Paul Rudd proves to be an inspired choice for the part of Scott Lang. While the actor’s charm and likability have never been in question due to his back catalogue of comedy classics, he really steps up his game here. Rudd’s performance makes you believe that he’s quite capable of going toe to toe with the established Avengers. He brings the perfect balance of audacity and intensity to the part, forging a sympathetic superhero for viewers to follow.
Michael Douglas is terrific as Ant-Man inventor Hank Pym. The seminal star imbues the role with a sense of gravitas and importance that gives him an imposing presence whenever he’s on screen. He leaves us in no doubt that Pym is an authority figure with tremendous fortitude, who is worthy of respect. At the same time, he conveys a tormented, emotional edge to the veteran scientist that rounds him out perfectly.
Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne is a character akin to Peggy Carter and Black Widow in that she’s a hero unto herself rather than a customary love interest or damsel in distress. She serves as a secondary mentor to Lang, teaching him how to fight and hold his own in hand to hand combat. It seems certain that Lilly will be playing a big part in the MCU going forward and based on her able input here, that’s something about which to be excited.
Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross/Yellowjacket is a serviceable villain. He’s a very visually arresting antagonist, both in terms of his abilities and the battles that they bring. However, when he’s not in his suit, Cross is a little generic as a foe. There’s nothing wrong with Stoll’s performance, it’s just that the motif of the evil entrepreneur has become overly familiar at this stage.
Of the remainder of those involved, Michael Peña is hilarious as Lang’s partner in crime, Luis. It’s a role that could easily have fallen on the wrong side of annoying, but he pulls it off nicely. David Dastmalchian and Tip “T.I.” Harris also have enjoyable turns as his criminal collaborators Kurt and Dave, respectively. On top of all that, some familiar faces make welcome returns and be sure to stay in your seat until the very end of the credits. There are two scenes contained within, the second of which is particularly momentous.
When all is said and done then, Ant-Man actually ends up being one of the finest films to have made its mark this year. Were it not for Cap and his superb solo stories, this would surely be the most monumental movie of Marvel’s first two phases. Its compelling characters, astonishing action, stunning special effects and singular structure all add up to a thoroughly entertaining and supremely satisfying cinematic experience.
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