Super Saturday: Ant-Man (2016 BAFTA Nominee)

Ant-Man (2015)
Dir: Peyton Reed

I was excited to see what original director Edgar Wright would do with this film and not the only person disappointed when he left the project. However, despite expecting to be underwhelmed, I was thrilled by how much I loved this movie!

Aging scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) turns to ex-con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) for help in stopping his evil protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from misusing his greatest achievement. Equipping him with an advanced suit that will enable him to shrink to the size of an ant to save the world from a physically minuscule but incredibly powerful threat.

I won’t dwell on the Edgar Wright situation, it’s hard to be certain exactly what happened and though it’s a shame we didn’t get to see his vision for this film and the character come to completion, there’s definitely some of his flavour in there. Despite all initial trepidation it’s a hugely enjoyable film on so many levels and he’s at least partly to thank for laying a foundation for that.

Heist movies, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, are one of my favourite genres, so a heist movie with superpowers is like a dream come true for me. The risk would always be with merging two superb genres that one or both would get insufficient development and attention, however I was surprised and hugely relieved to find the opposite true here. I love how the Marvel films can all be so different, this is yet again a MCU movie that uses elements of another genre to take the story down a distinctive and fresh route, yet still manages to tie in with more of the Marvel universe and the history of S.H.I.E.L.D. than I’d expected.

Rudd’s comedy roots make him so right for a story that is inherently odd. There’s also the element of him being a family man, which would’ve been unique to the franchise if he hadn’t been beaten to it by Clint Barton in ‘Age of Ultron’. However he still takes the prize for ‘superhero dad of the year’ as here that aspect is developed far more than in Hawkeye’s case, with many scenes and lines referring back to his daughter being his motivation throughout.

When it was announced that two versions of ‘Ant-Man’ would feature in the film, both Scott Lang and Hank Pym, it was initially assumed that Michael Douglas would have little more than a cameo to pass on the baton to the younger hero. In the end he has a full and interesting role which really suits him and brings together the different versions of the hero in a way that works very well for both.

Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) is a great character, she’s shown to be more than capable (we’ll come back to this in a bit), stating personal reasons why she can’t be the one in the suit, but she’s not completely sidelined. I like how Evangeline Lilly conveys the change in her character, starting off very cold and stand-offish, yet warms considerably by the end, leaving her in a place where you can see how her character will go on to be both pivotal and likeable.

The most surprising character of the film is lovable rogue Luis (Michael Peña), whose rapid storytelling and charm means that he steals scenes with ease. Thankfully it’s not just a role for light relief, the film doesn’t need that as it’s naturally funny throughout, but his character has a change from crook to ‘good guy’ that has hints of a ‘Robin Hood’ motivation, doing illegal things for all the right reasons. I imagine he will be returning for future films and I’d love to see Luis have even just a small role in ‘Civil War’ or the next ‘Avengers’ instalment as he would be one of the few characters with links to the Avengers but no powers of his own, the ‘everyman’ who could be used to good effect.

Critics keep pointing at the same issue with Marvel villains, that they are often just evil versions of the hero, with the same abilities. That’s certainly true again here, though I take issue with it being such a criticism. I feel there are clear reasons why this happens and why it makes sense to introduce new heroes with initial villains cut from similar cloth. Without doubt this story would be difficult to do the same way if the villain were from a completely different level of abilities, plus every fledgling hero has to start somewhere. Corey Stoll is actually very good, and Cross has such an odd but brilliant way of dealing with enemies, causing them to come to a sticky end. He’s not a world-dominating villain, but nor does he need to be, this origin of Scott becoming Ant-Man gives him a chance to get used to his new abilities, hone his skills, and at one point even tussle with another suited hero.

In terms of it being an action film it delivers in good measure. There’s a mini heist early on, with Lang using all the skills that I enjoy seeing in movie heists as well as some fittingly smooth parkour. It’s exciting, fun, and makes clear his skills and intelligence that fit why he is up to the next tasks and challenges he faces. There are also scenes of big action, yet astoundingly merged with the concept of a smaller scale. Rather than being gimmicky, fights switch between normal size and shrinkage in an inventive way that reinforces the reason why his abilities aren’t insignificant, with epic battles that are shockingly small when seen from a change in perspective. The key ‘Thomas the Tank’ scene demonstrates this in all the best ways, resembling a western-style top-of-train chase with added explosions, collisions, even throwing carriages, but when seen from the perspective of a normal-sized character it’s brilliantly small-scale. Interestingly there were rules imposed by the copyright owners on use of the ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ train, including that he had to be impartial and couldn’t kill anyone!

Sure we didn’t get to see Edgar Wright making a Marvel film, though never say never, until then there’s always the superb ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’. Peyton Reed should be recognised for being able to come into a production that was pretty far through the process and not ruin it, he seems happy that he was able to make the film his own without chucking the baby out with the bath water, retaining some of what Wright and others laid the foundation for. It’s so entertaining, funny and refreshingly different.

Where ‘Ant-Man’ is going next may be even more fascinating. The now announced sequel, ‘Ant Man and the Wasp’ provides the first equal pairing, plus the first female hero to appear in the title of a Marvel movie. I hope it takes the opportunity to delve more into the things that were mentioned in this movie, exploring more of her father’s backstory, which to be honest could make for at the very least a brilliant scene or two, or could we possibly have the basis for Marvel one day to delve into prequel territory? We have that in some respects thanks to ‘Agent Carter’ and the potential’s clearly there for Peggy Carter’s time at S.H.I.E.L.D. to lead into Hank Pym’s time as well. It may not be what they have in mind to do but if handled properly that would offer a completely different MCU experience.

I think ‘Ant-Man’ will end up being a really beloved and key member of the Avengers, with the fact that Pym’s history involving early S.H.I.E.L.D. could be a gift that keeps on giving, providing fascinating links to a previously unseen backstory and potential future developments. There are a few easter eggs thrown in near the end of the film and it provides a clear route into tying into the rest of the franchise. There are also double end credits scenes (as are now expected from Marvel), one for the sequel, while the other leads straight into ‘Civil War’ with clear suggestion that there’s a place for all heroes, no matter their size.

‘Ant-Man’ has been nominated at this year’s BAFTAs in the category of ‘Best Visual Effects’. It’s available to buy on all the standard and 3-Dimensional formats. Fittingly it’s just as powerful and enjoyable on the small-screen as it was at the cinema. 

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7 thoughts on “Super Saturday: Ant-Man (2016 BAFTA Nominee)

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