Synopsis – Armed with a super-suit with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, cat burglar Scott Lang must embrace his inner hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, plan and pull off a heist that will save the world.
My Take – There is no denying Marvel Studios is currently one of the biggest American corporate studio out there, with 12 releases so far (out of which three films have crossed the 1 Billion worldwide mark). Due to a devout following and media presence, the studio has become accustomed to taking risks with indie filmmakers and head-scratching choices to direct their projects. From placing Shakespearean thesp Kenneth Branagh at the head of the visual effects heavy Thor to their first unbelievable hit Iron Man back in 2008, with the director of Elf funny man Jon Favreau, or handing off their symbol of patriotism & good Captain America‘ sequel (also the upcoming Civil War & Avengers 3) to Russo brothers, who had made a name for themselves directing comedy shows, Marvel has pushed their limits of risk by backing James Gunn to turn a gun-totting raccoon and a giant adorable tree into the most fun cinema-goers have had this decade. Now comes their biggest risk to date, their controversy heavy film due to exit of writer-director Edgar Wright. For a few brief moments, the unstoppable juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) looked like it was about to grind to a halt with Ant-Man. Unlike most other films under the Marvel Studios umbrella, this production has been haunted by doubt and dissension. Fans were nervous about the narrative decisions to relegate Hank Pym – the original Ant-Man in the comic books – to the sidelines, while killing off his wife Janet Van Dyne (who, as the Wasp, is one of the founding members of the Avengers). Then came that hugely publicized parting of the ways between Marvel and original director Edgar Wright, who oozes so much geek cred that people understandably mourned his departure from the project after years of development. Edgar Wright who had been working on the project apparently since 2009, left just two weeks before production began! Stating creative difference with Marvel, mainly as his story apparently didn’t fit into Marvel‘s cinematic continuity & would work more as a stand alone project. Nevertheless, as expected a seemingly odd choice director Peyton Reed (who had previously directed the Jim Carrey starrer Yes Man), took over his reign. Let me make one thing clear, if you though Guardians of Galaxy was weird film, trust me this one enters a whole new level of weird. From the time the film was announced, I wondered how could one make a film on one of the most unlikable comic book character whose powers included the ability to shrink & control ants plus who had only two moments of rise to fame – 1) Yea, in the comic books Dr Hank Pym/ the 1st Ant-Man created Ultron (the big baddie of the recent Avengers film). 2) Pym’s emotional abuse of his wife which suddenly turned physical.
Nevertheless, the film is ready and instead focuses on the second Ant-Man aka Scott Lang a film starring a nice guy, albeit Paul Rudd, the nicest guy in Hollywood since Chris Pratt. So does the film work? Well most of the time yes & sometimes no! It’s easier to see as a beautiful mess, rather than a well-crafted superhero flick with profound depth and sense . There’s a lot of illogical nonsense that always nearly sends the film to wreckage, but there’s also so much of the fun side to make up for the eventual narrative shortcomings. The story following Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a cat burglar who after finishing his sentence, just wants to reunite with his daughter Cassie and get his life back on track. But he soon discovers that people in the outside world – including his ex- wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and her cop fiancee Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) – aren’t particularly kind to former convicts. Beaten down by circumstances, he agrees to pull off one last heist with his eternally optimistic buddy Luis (Michael Pena). It’s a crime that places him squarely in the path of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a retired, semi-reclusive scientist aka the first Ant-Man and the inventor of the so-called Pym Particle, which allows the wearer of his suit to shrink to the size of an insect by shrinking the space between molecules and using the resulting density to possess a strength very much out of proportion to his size. Hank decides to enlist Scott in his life-long mission of preventing the Pym Particle from falling into the hands of the wrong hands. Especially his former protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) who plans to sell it off to the highest buyer. Scott has to learn to fight better than he had to in prison under the training of Pym’s estranged daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). , he has to learn how to fully harness the power of the suit and he has to learn how to communicate with different kinds of ants, which he can then use to help him get around and accomplish certain tasks. All this requires a lot of training and practice, as well as a little help from Lang’s shady friends (played by Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian and T.I.) And, of course, someone as greedy, power-hungry and unscrupulous as Darren Cross isn’t going to take all this lying down. It’s safe to assume that he has a few tricks up his well-tailored sleeves. Similar to “Guardians of the Galaxy“, this whole idea sounds ridiculous on paper, but likewise the film is somewhat self-aware of this and just has fun with it while still making the story and drama substantial.
The comedy is executed well, making me laugh multiple times, a lot of that being due to Paul Rudd‘s and Michael Pena’s performances. The effects and actions scenes are definitely the highlight of the film. Ant Man’s power to shrink brings some refreshing visuals in terms of scale and the fight scenes are very well-choreographed, especially one involving a certain Avenger. I also like how this movie uses different species of ants, already such amazing animals, and on top of that, each species has its own unique abilities to assist the hero. The climax where it’s Ant Man vs Yellow jacket is definitely one of the best in MCU, with all the aforementioned aspects harmoniously coming into play. Truth be told, Ant-Man gets off to a somewhat shaky start. The tale of an honorable rogue who’s looking for a shot at redemption is a well-worn storytelling trope, one that the film initially seems to embrace rather too eagerly. As we watch Scott soldier through a host of tiny indignities, the dialogue – still credited to Wright and his co-writer Joe Cornish, with rewrites by Rudd and Adam McKay – is uninspired, and oftentimes uncomfortably on-the-nose. There’s no subtlety here, and the sense of fun that accompanies Scott’s attempt to hold down a job in Baskin Robbins feels a wee bit forced. Indeed, what makes Ant-Man work so well is its insistence on respecting its characters and taking their concerns and relationships seriously. This provides the film with an emotional anchor amidst all the madcap chaos and gleeful irreverence. Scott’s overpowering love for his young daughter runs parallel to Hank’s own concern for Hope, and even Paxton – initially caricatured as the stereotypical brutish new boyfriend – is given layers and depth beyond what might be expected of a film that seems so silly on the surface. This culminates in the film’s best action sequence: one that manages to be utterly ridiculous, as the camera cheekily zooms in and out of a conflict that’s entirely proportional to the size of its participants; but also deeply heartfelt, when Scott makes a split-second decision between life and probable death. But the film kicks into higher gear, and stays there, once Scott stumbles onto or, more accurately, steals his second chance. Perhaps, one of the most immediately-noticeable difference of Ant-Man from its Marvel fellows is that it doesn’t engage into explosive battles that generally results to immeasurable destruction. It is noticeably evident on the fact that its most interesting and most jaw-dropping action set piece, happens in a toy train set. Most importantly, this new addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe places its comic prowess at the center of its general effort to validate its entry to the franchise, and that is achieved without putting the natural action/adventure tendency of its superhero, nor the inevitable emotional nature of its characters, at risk of getting overshadowed by the rudimentary elements of the narrative.
Speaking of the cons, despite a surprisingly sound rationalization of the physicality of Ant- Man (small yet compact, “like a bullet”), the film’s action sequences are tragically sparse. It’s a shame, as the unique size-changing fight choreography offers a few precious where the film momentarily sputters with some life and vigor. Surely a couple of minutes of Michael Douglas‘ droning could have been shaved off for a few more shots of unorthodox pounding? Ah, but that would require a director with even a skeletal grasp of energy, pace, or vision (ahem). Among the film’s immeasurable log of missed opportunities: no Lang entering the human body and attacking from within, and not even a fleeting glimpse of a triumphant Giant-Man transformation (at least one climactic moment provides an ideal setup). And the Wasp? Shamefully, unforgivably absent. Right from the time the news of Paul Rudd‘s casting I was intrigued! Keeping the comic book character in mind & mixing it with Paul Rudd’s charm was sure to be a perfect blend. Rudd is such a delight here, and his presence and effortless take on his character make the mostly messed-up flow of the events, extremely palatable. Rudd puts his goofy and amiably charisma to excellent use as Scott, allowing us to believe that this one man can be as silly as he is strong, and as serious as he is funny. Paul Rudd brings a sort of average guy-charisma to the role, and you root for him and his redemption. Michael Douglas managed to capture Hank’s inner turmoil with what he was given. His anger, cynicism, and some tragic backstory (told to Scott + the audience by his daughter Hope) make Hank a compelling enough character. Although I would say I would have been really interested in seeing a more clearer version of his good ol days as the Ant-Man. Lilly gets the big-screen role she richly deserves in Hope, who’s acknowledged at every point in the film as being better, stronger, and more capable than the men around her think she is. Her character could’ve used more development, but at least her dialogue with Scott and Pym is sometimes amusing. Corey Stoll, on the other hand, is less impressive, barely providing the needed threat to make his presence felt and his belligerence imminent. A businessman who wants to utilize revolutionary technology for evil purposes? This is not a new concept, and one already played out in “Iron-Man“. Remember Obadiah Stane? Marvel unfortunately continues the trend of forgettable villains. But on moments where he and Lang engage in beautifully-choreographed fight scenes, the ineptitude gets relegated below the more important aspects of the proceedings, and once it does, the breathtaking visual schemes work under the spotlight, capturing Lang’s size-changing skill with epic elaborateness. There’s magic in every size shift, and the visual artistry is at its peak to deliver the moment. Michael Pena brings the laughs as Luis (Scott’s old cellmate in prison who he lives with once he gets out). Director Peyton Reed may not be the most experienced film maker out there, but right from the word go it was quite visible how he used Edgar Wright’s smart writing & humor to excellent use. It’s actually hard to gauge this film using the same measure that made the rest of its pack, mammoth and omnipotent powerful. But in its own right, and sub-atomic scale, this microscopic superhero is clearly a power behemoth, and it will surely spring back to its even bigger form, once the Avenger call is delivered. On the whole, ‘Ant-Man‘, may not be the best Marvel film out there (definitely better than Avengers: Age of Ultron & Iron Man 2), But it’s an incredibly solid effort considering the character arc & the production troubles the film ensued into. Ant-Man may not edge out the other films that make up Phase Two of the MCU in a straw poll – it does, after all, face some pretty serious competition in what has been an unbroken run of truly excellent superhero films. Best to say, “Ant-Man” is different from other MCU movies, if not better. Its a fun frothy delight which works as antidote to the now predictable MCU movies. Give it a watch!
Director – Peyton Reed
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 117 minutes