As one of over a thousand Marvel superheroes all presumably making their way to the big screen, Ant-Man is no easy proposition. To those not versed in Marvel’s prolific comic book heritage, the superhero sounds, well, a bit ridiculous, really. A man who can shrink to the size of an insect makes for a less than impressive superhero when stacked up against Thor, the God of Thunder.
As if overcoming instant negative perceptions wasn’t tricky enough, Marvel also had the ire of Edgar Wright fans to weather. After a decade of developing the script, the Shaun of the Dead director abruptly exited the project last year, weeks before filming, citing the old “creative differences” mitigation. Whatever the efforts of his replacement, Peyton Reed (The Break-Up), there will always be Wright diehards who lament the Ant-Man that never was.
Be in no doubt: Ant-Man had a mountain to climb (or in ant terms, at least a hill). So it’s to Reed and Marvel’s substantial credit that Ant-Man is not, in fact, an absurd folly, but a perfectly entertaining little entry in the increasingly oversized Marvel Cinematic Universe, and one that works on its own terms. It doesn’t quite shrug off the by-now-extremely-well-worn superhero origins formula. But it has a refreshing sense of humour about itself.
Much of that comes from the impossibly likeable Rudd, who, as well as starring, contributed to rewrites of Wright’s script. He plays Scott Lang, a skilled cat burglar looking to reunite with his estranged daughter after a stint in prison.
When all seems lost, Lang is approached by scientist and inventor Hank Pym (Douglas), who passes the torch of his incredible shrinking suit to the young pretender and together they harness an army of easily-susceptible real-life ants to save the world. As only superheroes can.
As Lang, Rudd has a fantastically dopey charm, which grounds the movie into something approaching believable, and punctures some of the more eye-narrowingly ludicrous elements. (Pym’s shrinking technology is apparently possible thanks to ‘Pym Particles’, and, y’know, science!)
Lang is an unusual entry in the Marvel line-up, in fact. Handsome and charismatic, certainly, but also a bit of a goofball, with some goofy powers that could never pit him among Marvel’s A-team. So it’s a shame that the movie around his is not a wildly unusual entry in Marvel’s increasingly repetitive canon.
Wright’s script called for a heist movie, and there is certainly some fun, spicy, Ocean’s 11-esque break-in sequences. But take that away and it’s Superhero Origins 101, complete with training montages, redemption cliches, and in Corey Stoll’s Yellowjacket, a villain for villain’s sake, whose primary motivation for evil seems to be, erm, because the template demands it.
Mercifully, however, we are not treated to another finale dominated by computer-generated cities being destroyed by computer-generated superheroes. Ant-Man’s excellent third act largely takes place on a micro scale, with Lang’s shrinking powers paving the way for some highly inventive visual effects – and very funny Honey I Shrunk the Kids-style visual gags.
It remains a Marvel movie through and through – something they are keen to remind you throughout, with innumerable references to, and occasional cameos from, the Avengers. But Ant-Man’s unlikely charm is just enough to stop it from being squished at the cinematic picnic.