Marvel finally unveil their hugely troubled adventure, but does this “tiny” blockbuster stand out from the superhero crowd?
Ant-Man is an absolute Frankenstein’s Monster of a film. Developed by true auteur Edgar Wright and his writing-partner Joe Cornish for over a decade, then snatched from their hands (or thrown to the floor in a childish tantrum, depending on where your sympathies lie) and torn apart by Anchorman veterans Adam McKay and Paul Rudd (also starring). The result (Marvel hope): a very broad, very accessible Americanised mainstream comedy with enough jokes to compensate for its necessarily-low stakes and lack of superhero star power. The broadness of the finished product is indisputable; the laugh-rate, however, is nowhere near as high as is required by such a dodgy premise. Guardians of the Galaxy seemed pretty absurd (tree man, talking raccoon) but was also utterly hilarious. Ant-Man‘s ridiculous nature isn’t supported by much, with the always reliable Michael Peña laboured with the majority of the funny and Paul Rudd remaining disappointingly poe-faced, though visibly and pleasantly enthusiastic, throughout.
Where the script’s comedic quality fails, Michael Douglas (on top form, against all odds, with a much bigger role than his “and Michael Douglas” credit would imply) steps in, and is a total delight in each scene he graces with a wisdom and a grit rarely seen in Marvel Studios projects (Robert Redford was shamefully miscast in The Winter Soldier). Douglas, Rudd and Peña are surrounded by an oversized troupe of character actors, none of whom have much to do. Evangeline Lilly is almost as wooden as she was in The Hobbit, showing none of her Lost-era charm. Corey Stoll shows up as the most boring Marvel villain since… ummm… every other Marvel villain par Loki and Whiplash (Ultron, Ronan, Alexander Pierce, Malekith, Aldrich Killian… the list goes on). Bobby Cannavale is laughably underused in a pointless cop role, while Judy Greer’s talents fails to be shown in a blockbuster for the third time in as many months (she appeared in three frames of Tomorrowland and her Jurassic World character barely had a name). Why have so many actors in a film if their lack of purpose is merely a distraction for the audience?
The director who Marvel chose (after many others turned the job down) to replace Edgar Wright is Peyton Reed. Reed isn’t much of a director: Ant-Man could have been directed by Miss Piggy and it wouldn’t have made a difference. This is film by committee, with Face of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige presumably calling most of the shots and leaving the rest of the work to the actors and VFX team. A superhero film like this lives and dies with its action, and Ant-Man definitely isn’t the worse in this regard. Gone, thank heavens, is the collapsing city finale of Marvel films gone by. In is an amusing final fight between Rudd’s suited-up Ant-Man and nemesis Yellowjacket on a miniature Thomas The Tank Engine train-set. The film avails of the traditional heist formula, but there are enough twists and unforeseen left-turns to keep it all reasonably entertaining. It may be a sign of its sheer lack of ambition and mediocrity, but there are substantially less cringe-inducing moments of awfulness in Ant-Man than in Tomorrowland, Jurassic World or Marvel’s own Avengers: Age of Ultron. Most stuff works, even if it doesn’t work particularly well. Other than one or two scenes of ham-fisted character development and “bonding” between Douglas and Lilly, most of everything is sufficient and pleasant, and there’s a rare lack of aggression which serves the film well. Much of this is down to Rudd, a less likely action star (and generally less likeable lead actor) even than Chris Pratt, but the perfect casting for Scott Lang, a man who Marvel expects the audience to wholly support despite his recent imprisonment for robbing a Wall Street tycoon.
There’s sadly little evidence of Wright and Cornish’s quirky traits visible in the film, but an impressively-staged last-act scene which avails of much experimental imagery would, one imagines, have been truly extraordinary under Wright’s direction, rather than the fun but uninspired state it now finds itself in. Ant-Man is horrifically unmemorable, but is very, very inoffensive and uniquely soft-tempered. Hence, it’s hard to dislike it, even though it’s clearly not very good. That’s impressive in and of itself.