Friday 17 July 2015

Ant-Man review

Ant-Man (12A, 117 mins)
Director: Peyton Reed
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Every successive movie triumph for Marvel becomes a building block for their next enterprise. So the fortunes accrued by Iron Man and the Avengers movies allows them to dip into the vaults for the lesser know Ant-Man, a character who may not be a household name, but who audiences will doubtless come to love in this and future movies.

Back in the day (which was the 1960s when Ant-Man was created, and which is the 80s when we join it here), Ant-Man was the alter ego of Dr Hank Pym. Pym (Michael Douglas) worked for SHIELD on a shrinking formula that he refused to hand over to them, and this gives us a nice chance to imagine what an 80s superhero movie starring Michael Douglas might have looked like.

In the present day we meet Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), just released from prison and doing his best to go straight. He’s a cat burglar and safecracker, although more of a Robin Hood figure than a proper criminal, which is why Pym targets him to be his helper.

Following a series of rather funny tricks and tests which are basically Hank auditioning the unwitting Scott to be the new Ant-Man, Scott ends up in the original shrinking suit. Zapped down to the size of an insect inside the suit, he has super strength and speed, and can communicate with ants to help him on his missions. This ant-eye action is very well realised, creating an entirely believable sense of scale as the tiny Scott interacts with the suddenly terrifyingly huge world around him.

The worst that could be said of Ant-Man is that it’s lightweight and occasionally routine, playing to a formula we’ve seen in many a movie, where a tech is developed which then becomes an application for the military and the chance for some unscrupulous businessman to get rich. In this case Pym’s one-time protégé and now great rival Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has been working on his own version of the shrinking suit, which is why Scott is being recruited to try to steal it off him.

It doesn’t feel throwaway and, like the similarly glib yet ultimately worthwhile Guardians of the Galaxy, certainly earns its place as a piece in the bigger picture. Specific references to Avengers: Age of Ultron tie us in in lots of ways, old and new, including a great moment when Scott realises the extent of the danger and quips “Why don’t we just call the Avengers?”

The need then is to give it a bit more substance, and Ant-Man is bolstered by a fathers and daughters motif running through it. Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) still blames him for the death of her mother, with the added complication that she works for Cross. Scott meanwhile is estranged from his own young daughter due to his time in prison, with the promise that he can see her again if he helps Hank.

As always, well cast actors feel at home in their new roles, judging the tone just right and providing slick entertainment. The jocular Rudd is a great fit, and having someone of the heft of Douglas to back him up doesn’t hurt, though the veteran star is more than capable of making with the funnies himself.

Perhaps it’s a little sparing with the action, heavy on training montages but taking a long time to get to any set pieces of real scale. But that’s more than made up for with the sense of fun, and when the big sequences do come they're bursting with wit and imagination, the miniature scenario allowing it to go places others simply can’t.

As superhero origin stories go, Ant-Man is a rock solid if hardly perfect effort, and the Marvel machine ensures that these guys will be back, and they’ll be bringing their friends.

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