Following this year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Ant-Man sees the ubiquitous Marvel Studios getting back to basics and back on form. Where the overall flavour of Marvel’s Phase Two has arguably been one of expanded-universe brand management, Ant-Man feels like a return to the simplicity of the early Marvel films: not since Iron Man (2008) has a Marvel film surprised and entertained so directly and effectively. That Edgar Wright famously left the project due to ‘creative differences’ is the elephant in the room.
It’s not without a small amount of relief that Peyton Reed, hastily brought in after the original director’s departure, does an excellent job in retaining most of Wright’s trademark whip-crack editing and comic timing, as well as crafting a film with his own signature that satisfies as a stand-alone narrative. Paul Rudd is an inspired choice for the title character, bringing an everyman quality to his Scott Lang as he bounces off Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) with charm and energy. Evangeline Lilly also shines as Pym’s daughter, Hope.
The plot is rote Marvel, betraying its roots as essentially a Phase One movie lackadaisically sauntering in at the end of Phase Two, but it’s the snappy dialogue, appealing, broadly drawn characters, and imaginative use of the shrinking gimmick that make Ant-Man stand out. And importantly, save for a couple of verbal references to the wider cinematic universe and a hilarious set- piece with one of the Avengers, Ant-Man stands resolutely on its own terms. Make no mistake: Ant-Man is far from perfect – despite Reed’s success as director we can’t help but wonder Edgar Wright would have produced had be been allowed to complete his vision – and the Quantum Realm, a concept teased from the outset, is a Chekov’s gun that never fully goes off. More immediately, Corey Stoll’s villain is utterly forgettable, a misstep made all the more thudding when compared against top-tier baddies Loki and Kingpin from Netflix’s superlative Daredevil. However, the refreshing and uncomplicated sense of fun more than make it for its minor shortcomings. Throw in a heist-movie structure, pitch perfect chemistry between the leads and a last minute reference to a certain wallcrawler and Ant-Man arrives, admittedly a little late to the party, as something pretty special.