Last autumn, all eyes were on Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel Studios’ first non-superhero all-out space opera, based on an obscure comic book series and starring the little-known Chris Pratt. Pundits wondered if this could be the movie to finally throw a space spanner in the works of Marvel’s intricately detailed and meticulously-planned cinematic Universe. $775 million later and an audacious new franchise is launched - Vol 2 lenses next year - and Chris Pratt becomes Hollywood’s go-to action hero overnight, dominating summer 2015 Box Offices in Jurassic World. This year, it’s Ant-Man, a more traditional superhero character but also not exactly racing alongside Spider-Man, Thor and Iron Man in the public’s consciousness. Surely this time Marvel have gone too far, surely this time they’ve dropped the ball?
Not a bit of it. Following a long and difficult gestation period bringing him to the screen, Ant-Man is an absolute blast of a movie. After the dour Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the thunderous, often-portentous Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man is a glorious, irreverent ray of sunshine in a genre that tends to take itself a bit too seriously occasionally. It’s very determinedly part of the established Marvel Universe – the film is dotted with references to and from other films (and there’s even a cameo from a couple of familiar faces and post-credits sequences you won’t want to miss) – and yet it has a welcome fleetness of foot and lightness of touch which makes it a great rollicking adventure film in its own right. It’s helped, of course, by the casting of Paul Rudd as Scott Lang/Ant-Man; best-known for a string of undemanding comedies, he brings his considerable comic chops to the role and yet he’s clearly also glorying in the opportunity to be an action hero at last – and one in a fancy costume, to boot. The core storyline is fairly generic off-the-peg stuff; nasty bad guy Darren Cross (Corey Stoll presumably filling in for Mark Strong who clearly wasn’t available to play his signature ‘bald baddy’ role), a former protégé of the first Ant-Man, Hank Pym (a superb performance by Michael Douglas clearly having a great time), is determined to develop his own ‘shrinking’ technology which he intends to sell to the highest bidder, military or otherwise. Hank sees the risks inherent in such technology falling into the wrong hands so, by a roundabout fashion, he enlists the help of hapless ex-con Scott Lang and, alongside his despairing daughter Hope (Lilly) trains him in the use of the original Ant-Man suit and slowly but surely he learns to communicate with the Earth’s smallest creatures, who become his staunch allies and a powerful, implacable army. But initially, Scott’s a reluctant and fairly inept hero and when Cross finally discovers the secret of shrinking technology, it looks like time might be running out...
Ant-Man is an old-school thrill ride. It’s frequently laugh out-loud funny – Scott’s three bumbling homie ex-con friends are a hoot and get some of the best gags – and, when in full-on action mode, breathtakingly exciting. It’s easy to be dismissive and ambivalent about CGI and special effects in an era when it seems there’s nothing Hollywood can’t do but the FX here, powered by Reed’s urgent, restless direction – are genuinely astonishing. It’s a film that needs to be seen in 3D, as the sequences where Scott shrinks and is either lost and imperilled in a world of blissfully-unaware giants or else riding on the back of his new best friend, flying ant Anthony, can really only best be properly appreciated in 3D. Ant-Man is probably the best argument yet for 3D filmmaking; in 2D, it’d surely be a flatter and less immersive experience.
Ant-Man is a joyous grab-bag of delights with subtle touches and flourishes which will delight fans of the comic strip character (whose own convoluted backstory is well-documented but sympathetically untangled here), newcomers devoted to the Marvel cinematic world and just about anyone who enjoys an intelligent, adrenalised and light-hearted adventure fantasy. Edgar (Shaun of the Dead) Wright may have been ousted from the project last year, but Reed’s direction has many flourishes Wright will surely approve of and the script, largely the work of Wright and co-writer Joe (Attack the Block) Cornish, is packed with their trademark clever, good-natured, no-nonsense wit.
Fast, fun-packed (but never frivolous) and riotously, raucously enjoyable, Marvel have defied the odds and they’ve done it yet again. Watch Ant-Man fly.
ANT-MAN / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: PEYTON REED / SCREENWRITERS: EDGAR WRIGHT, JOE CORNISH, ADAM MCKAY, PAUL RUDD / STARRING: PAUL RUDD, MICHAEL DOUGLAS, EVANGELINE LILLY, COREY STOLL, BOBBY CANNAVALE, MICHAEL PEÑA, ANTHONY MACKIE, ANTHONY THE ANT / RELEASE DATE: JULY 17TH
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10