Any long time readers of Oh! That Film Blog will know that my main cinematic blindspot is anything in the shape of a comic book superhero, particularly Marvel. The extent of my knowledge of this specific genre peaks with Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, and give or take a few Tobey Maguire Spider-Man venters in my early teens, I have remained blissfully ignorant of the majority of the new golden age of comic book films. I am probably the only movie lover in the entire world who has never seen any of the films pertinent to the Avengers gang, figuring that if you see one you have to see them all, and quite frankly, ain’t nobody got time for that. I did however, last summer, see and very much enjoy Guardians Of The Galaxy, which was a film that I felt set itself apart in terms of the quirk and silliness that it displayed. It was in the hopes of finding more of this funnier, quirkier side of Marvel that I settled in to watch Ant-Man, of which I only knew one thing, there must be a man, who somehow, is also an ant!
Ant-Man tells the story of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a recently released from prison burglar who had ambitions of getting his life back on the straight and narrow in order to be able to be a part of his young daughter’s life. These plans take a turn, however, when Scott is recruited by veteran scientist Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to break in to his former headquarters and steal a vital piece of world endangering technology from his former student turned sinister company boss Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). In order to pull off this difficult heist, Pym equips Scott with a suit that once worn can shrink a human to the size of ant whilst giving them super strength, and he also teaches him how to communicate and lead an army of ants, full of different species that have different expertise such as structure building, electromagnetic force and painful bites. Overall the plot sounds fairly bonkers, and that is precisely what comes across on the big screen. The great thing about Ant-Man, however, is that the filmmakers are extremely aware of just how bizarre the picture’s premise is, and they play with this big stakes vs. little stakes motif throughout the narrative by bringing a really enjoyable blend of classic Marvel action with more self aware, irreverent comedy that grounds the fantastical elements of the plot really effectively. Though there are never really any moments of real, in the balance tension between the good and evil forces within the narrative, there are certainly enough well executed set pieces along the way to keep the audience entertained for the film’s rather swift feeling running time. Ant-Man overall feels like a looser, wackier drunk cousin to the more well established franchises within the Marvel universe, and it is perhaps for this very reason that I found myself having a rather good time. It was nice to experience a comic book movie that wasn’t absolutely shrouded in fan mythology and unreachable expectation. There may have been plenty of Marvel easter eggs within the script, but as a genre novice I certainly didn’t pick up on them, and my viewing experience certainly did not suffer through my lack of knowledge of the wider fictional universe. All in all, a kooky outsider of a Marvel film that, much like Guardians Of The Galaxy, floated my boat much more than I imagine any typical Thor or Captain America adventure would.
Though the majority of Ant-Man’s off-beat and quirky nature stems from the overall premise of the plot, the casting of Paul Rudd in the lead role undeniably helps to maintain an unconventional yet undeniably high quality comic book hero vibe. Though not possessing the bulking muscles of Chris Hemsworth or the stereotypical good looks of Robert Downey Jr., the one thing that Rudd does have is a great sense of comic timing combined with an effortless ability to play out the dramatic and high stakes action moments when the time is right. Though not on the top of anybody’s list when it comes to action franchise blockbusters, Rudd’s casting proves to be an inspired choice, and his performance as Scott Lang has just the right amount of self-awareness of the bizarre narrative whilst at the same time respecting the fantastical nature of the work and committing 100%. Michael Douglas as Dr. Hank Pym provides a touch of effortless veteran star quality that helps to put a seal of credibility on the film, and some life has clearly been injected back in to Douglas as he gets a Hollywood second wind at the epicentre of the ever expanding Marvel universe. Evangeline Lilly as Hope, both Hank’s daughter and Scott’s eventual love interest, gives a solid is not rather forgettable performance, though I feel this is more the fault of her rather formulaic and restricted character rather than any acting choices that were made, and pretty much the same can be said for Corey Stoll as Darren Cross, who has little more to do than provide an obstacle within the narrative for the entire plot to commence. Though the villain’s reasons are somewhat inconsequential, the fun that is had watching both Michael Douglas and Paul Rudd do their thing is more than pay off for an iffy ‘take over the world’ type motive.
Overall, Ant-Man is a fun summer blockbuster that continues where Guardians Of The Galaxy left off in creating a side branch of Marvel that is perhaps less shiny and sterile and that takes a few more chances both in terms of its source materials and its casting choices. If an indie comic book blockbuster were such a thing, Ant-Man would most certainly fall in to the category, not mind blowing to any extent but absolutely worth a watch and a wonderful companion piece to the more established franchises that have become the pillars of the Marvel universe.