By no means a failure, but this fun caper could have been a whole lot louder had it been given a more creative vision and not taken itself so seriously at times.
Marvel’s strangest, smallest and (apparently) trickiest superhero finally bounces onto screens this summer, a full ten years (at the very least) after its initial scripting began, now minus its original director.
When Edgar Wright left the project shortly before filming began last year, a great deal of fans lost hope, and with every potential replacement supposedly walking away as well, it eventually fell to relative no-name Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Yes Man, that other film you probably forgot existed etc.) to piece together the broken remains of what was once one of Marvel’s most promising properties.
So why the history lesson? Well, it seems necessary for one to know and understand the troubles this film encountered through its production – it is part of its very DNA after-all – but also more importantly, a great deal of the criticisms aimed at Ant-Man by the general press have been in relation to Wright’s departure.
Comparing this finished film with what Edgar Wright had planned is a truly pointless exercise. As harsh as it sounds, Wright’s vision was never realised and so, remains only as heavily-speculated fantasy. Thus it will most likely always trump whatever actuality comes to the screen. A film deserves to be analysed and critiqued in its own right, not compared to something that frankly, never really existed. So, without much further ado, here is a review of Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man – the final, finished first adventure of the original insect-sized superhero.
When notorious burglar and former jailbird Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) accepts a sure-fire heist job in order to pay his daughter’s child-support, he gets more than he bargained for, stumbling across the famous shrinking super-suit of one-time big-shot scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). When Pym discovers the young criminal’s talents for treachery, he and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) begin training Lang to become the eponymous Ant-Man – a miniature soldier who can command armies of ants with his thoughts – in order to steal back Pym’s legendary shrinking formula from the evil Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), a diabolical businessman with nothing but money on his mind.
As bonkers as it may at first sound, Ant-Man is surprisingly one of the MCU’s more grounded entries. Based largely around the idea of a classic crime caper, but shedding a great deal of the (sadly, much-needed) comedy surrounding it, it certainly takes a far more low-key stance than some of its galaxy-hopping predecessors. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although it does often leave one feeling that Reed’s film could do with being, rather ironically, a little bigger.
The action set-pieces themselves are beautifully realised, as are any sequences where Lang performs his magical shrinking act, but everything in between sadly ends up feeling a little drab. Bouncing between a few less-than-spectacular sets (an old house, a cookie-cutter science lab) there’s not a lot to really keep the audience interested here in between the panels; Reed’s visuals feel more in line with a hokey TV show as opposed to the grand-scale summer blockbuster his movie actually is.
It’s handy then that his cast are far more embracive of the Hollywood ideals at Marvel’s centre. Paul Rudd is an exceptionally likeable hero; this much was already known from his rom-com days, but here he packs a punch well and even sells the film’s emotional core effortlessly too. The same can be said of Evangeline Lilly, a truly badass and engaging heroine who, similarly to Rudd, reserves her place in the larger universe without question. Michael Douglas, rather expectedly, often appears a little lost amongst all the superhero lore, whilst Corey Stoll struggles with making his by-the-books villain a little larger than life. The saving grace of the entire cast however, Rudd and Lilly included, is weirdly enough Michael Peña’s fast-talking sidekick Luis. Every single line that drops from his mouth seems to form some kind of comedy gold. It is bizarre, but also really rather brilliant.
Ultimately, it becomes clear that within the wider purview of the MCU, Ant-Man is just about good enough, although far from the weird and wacky heights it could well have been. With a character this strange and uncommon, a more expressive and inventive touch was needed to introduce that extra spark to his origins, and sadly Peyton Reed wasn’t quite capable of it. The character will live on thanks to Rudd, whilst the film itself, will likely be forgotten within such a wide and expanding universe.
Ant-Man (2015), directed by Peyton Reed, is distributed in the UK by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Certificate 12A.