Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Review: Ant-Man

After years in development hell, Ant-Man finally hit cinema screens across the world last week. Not without its fair share of behind-the-scenes dramas, expectations were relatively low across the board for the film that is arguably Marvel Studios' biggest gamble to date. With that in mind, I think things turned out remarkably well; while Ant-Man is by no means perfect, it is a very enjoyable blockbuster flick and one that I'd love to see a sequel to before Avengers: Infinity War Part I hits in 2018.

Ant-Man follows the story of the (kind of) reformed criminal Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who is attempting to rebuild his life after being released from prison. This proves to be harder than first thought after he is dragged into an astonishing conflict by genius inventor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his estranged daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). Together they must stop the villainous Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from putting the dangerous Ant-Man technology into the hands of the evil organisation, Hydra!

The plot is by no means complex but it is very entertaining to watch play out. This is in part due to a fun script that was re-written by Rudd and his long-time writing partner Adam McKay, and is unsurprisingly full of funny moments as a result. Of course some of the jokes do fall a bit flat, but the majority of them land well - particularly the punchlines delivered by Michael Pena who puts in a charming and energetic performance.

In the run-up to the film's release, those involved in making Ant-Man had said that father-daughter relationships play a large role in the film, and I'm relieved to say they are handled relatively well. There are occasional moments of awkwardness, seemingly due to the fact that this film is only truly comfortable when focusing on comedy, and as a result doesn't let things get serious for very long. This isn't a terrible trait to have, but it does lead to some jarring transitions from drama back to comedy, and prevents the emotional stakes from getting too high.

On the upside, one of my biggest concerns about this film - the ageing-down of Scott Lang's daughter Cassie - who in the comics is a teenager and super-hero in her own right - was fortunately unfounded; the seven year-old Abby Ryder Fortson puts in a surprisingly strong performance. During a time when genuinely good child actors seem to be in short supply, it's always a nice surprise when a talented and charismatic young actor comes along.

That charisma also extends to the adult cast with Rudd, Lilly and Douglas all putting in memorable performances and the aforementioned Michael Pena very nearly stealing the show as Luis, the crook with a heart of gold. Corey Stoll puts in a solid performance as Darren Cross; while the character does seem a little two-dimensional, he is far more memorable than other recent Marvel villains Ronan the Accuser and Thor: the Dark World's Malekith.

Peyton Reed had some big shoes to fill after fan-favourite director Edgar Wright left the Ant-Man project in one of Marvel's biggest controversies to date. Fortunately, I feel Reed has succeeded in pulling Ant-Man back from the brink of disaster. While Reed lacks the distinctive style of Edgar Wright, he still constructs a memorable film in Ant Man, with the several Wright-esque moments paying tribute to the man who spent so many years developing this film.

Ultimately, I found Ant-Man to be a very enjoyable palate cleanser between the action-heavy Avengers: Age of Ultron and the upcoming all-star Captain America: Civil War. The smaller scale of the story helps make things more character driven, with the script finding time to establish both the main cast and supporting players, while leaving doors open for future movies in classic Marvel Studios style. Upon leaving the cinema after seeing Ant-Man, all I could think about was how I wanted to see these characters in action again - a sign that in spite of its flaws, Ant-Man has successfully established one of Marvel's stranger characters in their ever-growing cinematic universe.


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