What a shame it is that Edgar Wright never got to see Ant-Man through to the finish. Because Ant-Man and the Shaun of the Dead/ Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright – who had initially been lined up for directorial duties – would have been a match made in heaven. It’s a property than screams potential for creativity, and that’s something that Wright has in spades. Damn his and Marvel’s “differences in their vision of the film”.
Instead, Peyton Reed, of Bring It On and Yes Man fame takes the hot seat, and he literally couldn’t have a more different style than the original director Edgar Wright. His approach is probably best described as broad. Whilst Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) high-points Guardians of the Galaxy and The Winter Soldier oozed the creative styles of directors James Gunn and the Russo Brothers respectively, Ant-Man feels flat in comparison. Looking back on each director’s back catalogue there are clear thematic and stylistic trends which carry through to their Marvel debuts; the same applies for Reed, it’s just that his style is a tad generic.
It’s by no means the first Marvel flop (though some would argue that Thor: The Dark World already has that crown), but it never comes close to reaching the heights that the franchise has been hitting recently.
The good news is that Paul Rudd is quite excellent as the miniature superhero Ant-Man, and the core trio of the titular hero, his mentor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) are great. There’s a strong chemistry between the group making for some light humour, a smattering of romance and family drama. Together they lead a heist to steal a dangerous weaponised suit, the Yellowjacket, which can shrink its wearer down to the size of an ant for tactical advantages in war; if it were to fall into the wrong hands. The wrong hands in question belong to the MCU big bad, Hydra, with the Yellowjacket creator and former protégé of Hank Pym, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) looking to sell his suit onto the villainous organisation.
Darren Cross, you see, is a bad man. Why? He just is, that’s why. He holds a grudge against his former mentor Pym, with the vague notion being that Pym was holding him back from exploring the nature, technology and identity behind the Ant-Man, an urban legend of a shrinking superhero that once was. Cross cuts a simplistic villain, with simplistic motives, and despite Stoll’s best efforts to overplay his evil smarm the character is too underdeveloped to be anything more than a cardboard cut out pantomime baddy.
Little does Cross know that Ant-Man did in fact exist, nor that the superhero was his once father figure Hank Pym, who recruits the burgling miscreant Scott Lang to don the suit and become the new Ant-Man. His initial donning of said suit – which allows the user to shrink at the push of a button – takes us on an exhilarating tour de force of all of the worst things you’d wish to encounter at the size of an ant, as he gets washed up in a bath, tackles a hoover and comes face to face with a mouse. But from there on in scale is rarely utilised in such a manner, with the multitude of action scenes essentially glossing over the fact that he’s ant sized. Yes, he flies on the back of an ant, and controls an ant army, but when he’s duking it out with a miniaturised Darren Cross in his Yellowjacket suit there’s nothing to suggest that they’re but a pin prick in the vast world they battle within. At least, that is, until a genuinely funny moment involving Thomas the Tank Engine towards the end.
It’s this final battle and the initial trial of mastering the suit which showcases the most creativity (along with some gloriously overblown exposition from Lang’s friend and heist-mate Luis, played by Michael Peña). It’s a missed opportunity that these more unique elements weren’t capitalised on further. Peña also brings the film’s funniest moments, but on the whole it’s not as humorous as it strives to be, providing more light chuckles than outright rib-tickling laughs.
The first steps are made to integrate Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man into the Avengers, with the film firmly ensconced within the MCU, and a handful of cameos dotted throughout from previously established characters in the Universe. Here’s hoping that he benefits from the team up with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes as much as Captain America did – as he’s not quite dining with the Marvel big boys yet.
At times fun, at times bland, Ant-Man’s issues hold it back from continuing the roll Marvel had been on as of late with a lesser entry into the MCU.
Rating (out of 5):