By Ellery Nick @Ellery_Nick
Ant-Man is here, riding on the back of ants to rid the planet of those who would seek to miniaturise themselves for all the wrong reasons.
And so we meet Scott Lang, a soft-hearted criminal in the mould of Edward Snowden. Released from jail, Scott comes to the attention of retired hero Dr. Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas, who’s been watching him through his teeny bug cameras and thinks he’s got what it takes become the new Ant-Man and save the world. Another inhuman leap then into the train-hurling, building-toppling world of Marvel superheroes.
But alas not for the film’s writer Edgar Wright. After a decade long run-up, the Shaun of the Dead creator sited creative differences and left the project just as filming was about to begin. The reins were handed over to yes-man filmmaker, Peyton Reed. Apologies, that’s – maker of the film Yes Man, starring Jim Carrey, Peyton Reed. It’s hard to say what impact this has had on the final version, a lot of the dialog and fight sequences are reminiscent of Wright’s films, but overall it feels in keeping with the other films in the franchise, only with a lighter, less perilous tone.
Which is probably for the best. In the wait for next summer’s Captain America, Civil War, which promises to be a thorny thicket of knotted brows, it won’t hurt us action-flick fans to sip on some Avengers-light.
Fitting the bill we have easy going Paul Rudd as Scott Lang who remains defiantly nonplussed in the face of an imminent global threat. It’s fair to say that within the tale of a man who can shrink to a grain of sand and control ants, there is a natural availability for joking around. Captain America wouldn’t appreciate joking around. He would remind everyone that the safeguarding of life and justice is no laughing matter. No folks, this isn’t some bare-kneed dance routine! The way to deal with geopolitics, espionage and emerging technological threats isn’t by having a bunch of laughs. A small shield with a star in the middle will do nicely instead.
Never mind him. Ant-Man was unexpectedly enjoyable. It doesn’t carry the same gravitas as some of the other projects in Marvel’s stable, but probably thanks to Wright there’s a lot of lingering goof in the script. The characters are more playful than intriguing and the usual masculine posturing has made way for the sound of palms being slapped on heads. On this count, Michael Peña playing Scott’s best bud Luis, is a triumph of irrepressible gossipy fun. Evangeline Lilly also raises a smile with a consistently distracting hairpiece. And the ants are fun too. I am just going to say it: Ant-Man’s ant is the ant from Honey I shrunk the Kids. It is, and it’s okay. We loved that ant and we’re just glad he’s back.
A more germane suggestion for the superhero world is: How, after a succession of crises with few visible causalities, can a sense of jeopardy be sustained? When the end of the world is a staple requirement in every film, how can we remain astounded by the threat and courage of beings who can fling trains and reduce buildings to rubble? One way is to dial back the hubris and relax. Scott Lang shrugs when being called a pussy. When hero and villain are shrunk into the carpet for their final climatic fight, a child’s toy train is lifted and hurled through the air just as the Hulk might do with the real thing and so nicely satirises the excess with which Avenger’s bouts have been carried out.
Although as a story it doesn’t care much to philosophise. Yes, there’s a white-collar psychopathic supported by the government, while poor Scott comes from a lower socio-economic background and can’t keep job because of a crime that was largely for the good of others and he loves his daughter, but this remains a costume-donning adventure flick. This is a caper that could begin with an Ant-Man theme tune and it would not have felt dated. In fact, come to think of it, its absence is sorely felt! ‘Ant-Man, riding on an Ant. Ant-Man, the ant doesn’t mind. Ant-Man, because he’s so light and small…’
Ant-Man is released theatrically today, Friday July 17th.