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Film Review | Ant-Man

Thought it falls short of flawless movie magic, Marvel Studios' latest contribution is a refreshingly low-key break from the epic slugfests we've had to endure of late.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
28 July 2015, 2:19pm
Dress to compress: Paul Rudd shrinks his way to superherodom in Marvel’s latest action caper
Dress to compress: Paul Rudd shrinks his way to superherodom in Marvel’s latest action caper
So here we are again. Marvel Studios’ latest offering in the Great Wall towards the next installment of the ‘Avengers’ franchise.

Originally slated to be directed by British auteur Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs The World) Ant-Man now arrives to us courtesy of Peyton Reed, whose quick recruitment following Wright’s departure – ye olde “creative differences” chestnut – does raise some suspicion.

It’s not entirely unfounded. Because while Ant-Man conforms to the now established, beat-perfect formula that made the Marvel films largely successful thus far, it’s nonetheless marred by rushed, sloppy direction – understandable in the circumstances, but yet another reason to pine for what could have been had the hyper-kinetic and ever-funny Wright stayed on. 

Boasting the ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, cat burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is forced to change his ways by professionally exiled genius scientist Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who recruits him into a dangerous heist involving his villainous heir, Darren Cross (Corey Stroll).

While Cross looks for ways to harvest Pym’s pioneering ‘Ant-Man’ research to nefarious ends, the older scientist’s spurned daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) acts as a double agent to win Cross’ trust, while remaining frosty towards her father due to past misdeeds.

 

But Scott is motivated by a family drama of his own. Having lost both his wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and his daughter Cassie (Abbie Ryder Fortson) due to his criminal past, he’s keen to snatch at any whiff of redemption he can manage.

There’s no delusion about the cynical nature of this project – yet another chink in Marvel’s armour – and a complete lack of care to its visual make-up prevents it from being the total immersive experience it needs to be. An adherence to lazy close-ups is jarring, though this has sadly become the standard for hired-hand directors like Reed, who are weaned on TV drama.

Of course this shouldn’t really matter in a comic book action blockbuster about a man who shrinks to the size of a super-powered ant, but it does matter because the emotional underbelly of the story is meant to carry some weight.

We’re meant to buy Scott’s personal journey all the way – which means both his family problems and his burgeoning relationship with Hope – and that’s just not possible when all the talking heads scenes are edited together by what looks like a 10-year-old playing with a camera they got as a Christmas present.

It’s a good thing, then, that the overall plot moves to a joyous, pulpy engine – full of barely-explained weird science and equally preposterous set pieces – and that some Wright’s penchant for zany humour appears to have survived the transition (he retains co-writer credit).

If the derivative story is equal parts Iron Man (2008) and Big Hero Six (2015) – both Marvel properties to varying degree – it is at least delivered in a light-hearted register that’s welcome after the gloomy-as-heck Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Rudd is a crucial piece of this particular puzzle, since the likeable comedic actor is an expert at puncturing moments of stress and melodrama. That this skill is then exploited more than once for obvious effect is par for the course – as you may have guessed by now, this isn’t the most elegantly put together blockbuster in recent times.

Michael Douglas is also used as something of a prop to dispense inspirational speeches and cranky one-liners, and he doesn’t appear to be entirely convinced about either. But just like Robert Redford in Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014), he’s not really there to play a character but lend some Hollywood-history gravitas to the operation.

If anything, Ant-Man recalls superhero movies of yore. Instead of the epic narratives of genetically super-powered individuals (most of Marvel fare) or dark, portentous allegories for the modern world (Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy), we get a rough-and-tumble heist aided by zany, impossible gadgets.

It’s just a shame that it could have been better. With Wright on board, it could even have been magic.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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