Wednesday, 8 July 2015


It seems impossible for any discussion of Peyton Reed's Ant-Man to take place without referring to Edgar Wright's Ant-Man, so let's get that out of the way sharpish. When Wright and co-writer Joe Cornish left the project just over a year ago after working on it for over a decade, it was tricky not to feel a little deflated. It's not that their involvement necessarily guaranteed a flawless smash hit, but to stick a director with such a distinct style into the Marvel Cinematic Universe felt like exactly the shot in the arm the series needed before it disappeared up its own interdimensional wormhole. Replacing Wright with the director of Jim Carrey LOL-vacuum Yes Man seemed, uh... insane, let's say; Peyton Reed appeared to have been hired simply because he sounded like a Marvel character himself.

Fast forward to July 2015 though, and watch as a smug, cynical blogger, bored silly by the summer's blockbuster output and expecting little from Ant-Man, leaves the cinema with a big stupid grin on his big stupid face, reflects on the preceding two hours and realises that at no point did he stop and think 'what would this have been like if Edgar Wright had directed it?'. Wright isn't missed for two reasons: one, there are still plenty of his and Cornish's ideas left in the finished product; and two, Peyton Reed does a perfectly bang-up job of delivering a fun, silly, inventive, standalone superhero flick that sticks two tiny fingers up to both the rest of the MCU and the naysayers. Ant-Man's provenance may be troubled and complex, but the result is as slick as a melted Cornetto.
Kicking off with a 1989-set prologue starring a CG-de-aged Michael Douglas that clears the uncanny valley so comfortably it plants a flag in the opposite peak, Ant-Man wastes little time in introducing its leads. Douglas is Hank Pym, inventor of "The Pym Particle" (carefully enunciated on each occasion so as not to sound like "The Pimp Article"), which can shrink people and things; the science behind his discovery is left blissfully unexplained. Evangeline Lilly has a terrible hair day as Hank's estranged daughter and assist-ant (ugh) to ant-agonist (sorry) Darren Cross (a disappointingly bland Corey Stoll), Hank's former student who now wants to sell his old mentor's invention for war and shit. Paul Rudd, meanwhile, is Scott Lang, a smart-mouthed ex-cat burglar trying to go straight so he can see more of his unbearably cute moppet daughter.

None of the main characters break much new ground and their arcs are slight (Cross' is a straight line), and while their introductions are efficient the first act takes a while to play out. Scott's journey to his destiny as wearer of Hank's magic shrinky costume is delayed by the tropes of the superhero origin story, which dictate that it must be the best part of an hour before we see our hero super-suited and booted. Once Scott finds and test-drives the suit, though, it's full steam ahead, and our introduction to the world in miniature is a delicious tease: a tremendous shot of Scott clinging for dear life to the grooves of a record, trying to avoid the needle, is tantalisingly brief.

Almost as if the film suddenly realises it has a lot of catching up to do, we're launched headlong into a dizzyingly intense, exposition-heavy training montage before the meat of the story can commence - a heist, in which Scott must retrieve Hank's secret formula from Cross before he can sell it to some warmongering bastard or other. Proceedings are interrupted by a somewhat forced and unnecessary diversion inserted to remind us we're in the Avengers universe, but otherwise it's a streamlined mid-section that astounds and delights, not least as tiny Scott and his horde of helpful hymenoptera launch an assault on the caverns and skyscrapers of a server room.
If Ant-Man ended post-heist you'd be happy enough, but instead it keeps changing up through the gears, powering through several inspired set-pieces that wring the situation's ludicrousness dry with sparkling wit before dipping into unexpectedly psychedelic territory towards the end. I won't say too much, but any finale that references Thomas The Tank Engine and 2001: A Space Odyssey within minutes of each other is fine by me.

What makes Ant-Man such a refreshing addition to the MCU is its very nature as a small-scale story: no cities are levitated here, no worlds are threatened; while Avengers: Age Of Ultron went as bloated as it could before bursting, this keeps things personal and relatable without losing the ability to impress. Reed handles the action masterfully, but the relationships between the leads are equally important and just as well-executed. Plus it's ruddy funny, and not just because of funny Rudd: some of the visual gags are ingeniously thought-out.

Probably the most fun I've had with a Marvel film since Iron Man Three over two years ago, Ant-Man suggests a more interesting future for the MCU than I'd been led to expect. Captain America still bores me and the Guardians of the Galaxy are yet to win me over, but if the odd curveball can be thrown every now and then I'll happily keep visiting the universe. Scott Lang's return in Captain America: Civil War next May makes the dull Avenger's next outing a more tempting prospect, but it's the unknown quantity of Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange I'm now looking forward to more. Scott Derrickson is down to direct that, but I'm sure Edgar Wright could find a window in his schedule somehow.

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