Ant-Man Review: A Tongue-In-Cheek Taster of the MCU to Come

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Has Marvel’s plucky under-dog lived up to the gigantic hype? Hit the link and find out!

The Skinny

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has a problem: he’s a cat burglar fresh out of prison with no job prospects and no outlet for his acute engineering mind. His ex-wife is married to a cop and he needs to prove he can go straight before he can get visitation rights to see his daughter, Cassie. Ok, so I guess that’s more like eight problems? Anyway that doesn’t matter because Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has a bigger problem: his formula for controlling the distance between atoms relative to their density (shrinking potion) has been discovered by his ego-maniacal protege Derren Cross (Corey Stoll), who wants to weaponise it and sell it off as the “Yellow Jacket” solider for a crazy-ass profit. So maybe the two of them get together, maybe Pym trains Lang to use his Ant-Man suit, and maybe…just maybe…they can pull off a kooky heist with a ragtag bunch of criminal cut-ups. Cue Ocean’s Eleven style antics, a twist or two, and a sprawling battle that defies the laws of conventional set building. Oh, and there’s an Avenger or two in the mix, keep an eye out.

The Good

Following in the xeno-morphic footsteps of James Gunn‘s Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man puts it’s humour first and foremost. 90% of this humour is funnels through Michael Peña, Rudd’s crafty sidekick who is always eager to get his former partner in crime back in the burglin’ game. Like with any sidekick, audiences seem to be having a love/hate relationship with Peña’s character, who’s surreal and child-like commentaries punctuate the entire two and a half hours – even sneaking a gag or two into the final fight sequence. The thing about love/hate characters, is that they have staying power – the power to lift you up or wear you down. And with family-orientated action films that need to have enough depth of story to keep key demographics interested, it’s never a bad thing to have some dependable humour tying everything together and give the audience a nudge in the side as if to say “hey, this is some pretty freaky stuff right?”.

Within the film’s contagious humour is no lack of self-deprecation – they all know the name is silly, they all know the powers are weird and at times disjointed, and they all know they live in a world of gods and unstoppable green monsters. So Ant-Man takes a page out of the stunningly successful Daredevil‘s (comic) book, acknowledging the hero-filled world they live in and, instead of dwelling on it, focuses on its own pocket of resistance. Because at its core, Ant-Man is a gorgeously crafted comedy-heist film.

We also have to make mention of Evangeline Lilly, who plays Hank Pym’s daughter Hope and is one of few female Marvel characters to never take the easy way out and switch to the damsel in distress for the hero to save. Instead, Lilly is a perpetual badass in the film and with any luck will continue to kick butt in future films as The Wasp.

As a final good note, the inclusion of a subatomic universe, while relatively unexplored, was a genius extra layer to add that sense of un-scalable space that served Thor and the Guardians so well. There wasn’t much of  chance that we’d see Ant-Man go giant this time around, but there were enough breadcrumbs left so that Lang can easily pick them up the next time around.

The Bad

In reality, Rudd needs a comic sidekick like Peña in this film because he isn’t the most charismatic hero. In an ensemble, Rudd is more than capable of playing off zanier characters with exhausted, stone-faced wit. But somewhere between the stale father-proves-himself-to-his-daughter template and a some not-so-fresh dialogue, Rudd couldn’t really be left on his own in a room, lest he reveal a thoroughly two-dimensional personality.

Playing opposite the hero is a similarly paper-thin villain in the form of Derren Cross/ Yellow Jacket. The similarities to the first Iron Man and its villain Obediah (Jeff Bridges) are staggering here: the morally dubious, inferiority-complex riddled businessman/scientist who takes over the company and turns the hero’s technology against him with a few juicy weapons. Sure, there’s the suggestion that Cross’ exposure to the Pym Particles are turning his brain to spicy porridge, suggesting that he’s not in control of what he’s doing. But a lack of exploration and strong manic acting makes Cross a forgettable enough villain that does little more than fill a gap in the storyboards. The suit was pretty cool though.

The Verdict

There are two things about Marvel movies – the nonsense science and the family-focussed simplicity – that everyone complains about but really aren’t worth the time. This is how the MCU has developed over the better part of a decade, and in that time it’s managed something that no other franchise has before. In order to do that, you need consistency, a level of scientific breathing room, and a dependable emotional arc. With that in mind, Ant-Man is a fine addition to the MCU.

It would have been easy to leave it at that, but Ant-Man takes some risks for the sake of the expanding universe that really pay off. Beside its dependable humour and revolutionary action, Ant-Man also proves that you can drop in an Avenger from another film, have some scenes with him, and then move on without it diverting or disrupting the plot at hand. that’s going to be very important for the success of future projects, especially the upcoming Captain America: Civil War which looks like it will include at least two additional Avengers for an undetermined portion of the story. In that way, Ant-Man is a vital cog in an increasingly complex machine, and what it lacks in character recognition it more than makes up for with sustainable story, cheeky entertainment and a set of MCU training wheels that can be officially taken off.

See it, you’ll enjoy it.

8/10

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