Starring Paul Rudd as the diminutive hero, Ant-Man (2015) is a hilarious heist movie cum superhero flick that proves to be a hugely enjoyable and playful way to bring the studios ‘Phase Two’ to a close. It revels in oddity; then again, it is about a shrinking hero who can control armies of ants. Because of this it shares many of the comical qualities of James Gunn’s smash-hit Guardians Of The Galaxy. Both titles had to overcome the obstacle of less established Marvel characters, but it would seem that in each case this freed them up to be more playful in their approach. Ant-Man also has the shadow of the departed director, Edgar Wright, standing over it.
Decades later, Pym’s protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) stumbles over the tech and decides to capitalise on its potential, thus realising Pym’s worst fear – the nods to Oppenheimer are crystal clear. In a race against time, Pym decides – much to the chagrin of his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) – to recruit Rudd’s Scott Lang. An ex-cat burglar, he’s desperate to reconnect with his daughter after a stint in prison. Pym convinces Lang to take on the mantle of Ant-Man and prevent Cross from unleashing this deadly weapon. There are many reasons Ant-Man feels like a breath of fresh air for this gargantuan franchise. Shifting the setting to the West Coast makes for a change – moving the action away from the giddy heights of Avengers Tower and New York skyscrapers to a homely San Fransisco townhouse where Pym trains Lang to become the Lilliputian-sized hero.
Everything about Reed’s movie brings the action closer to home. The endless destruction of the typical third act of a Marvel movie is abandoned, and the consequences of actions feel more pertinent and relatable. This is partly because, at its core, Ant-Man is a movie about family. Much like Guardians, it focuses on parent/child relationships to engage audiences – after all not many of us can relate to having godlike powers or a high-tech super-suit. Lang’s motivation is his relationship with his daughter, while Pym will do anything protect Hope – not to mention his need to stop his surrogate son from destroying the world. This familial element is why the film is such a success, even if it is beefed-up with superhero MacGuffins. We still get the hi-octane wish fulfilment that makes superhero movies so popular, but it is the family drama that holds our attention.
Then there is the playful, surreal visual quality of the film. When shrunk, we see Ant-Man floating in zero-gravity, battling enemies while trapped inside a briefcase that is tumbling from a helicopter to the sound of The Cure’s Plainsong – a gleefully absurd, visually spectacular moment. The final showdown, meanwhile, takes place atop a child’s train set pulled by Thomas The Tank Engine – no doubt a leftover from Wright’s tenure. These moments aren’t the bang and boom of cities crashing to Earth in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, they are smaller and contained, yet somehow grander, and more beguiling. Ant-Man is a smart action adventure that breathes new life into a long-running franchise, told with a level of intelligence that reminds those beleaguered by the onslaught of superhero movies that the genre still has a lot to give when in the right – if not the Wright – hands.
Joe Walsh | @JosephDAWalsh