Not To Scale
Paul Rudd is his usual witty self in this two parts retread to one part reinvention, which partly suffers from formulaic superhero syndrome but thankfully doesn’t take itself too seriously.
12A, 117 mins
I must admit, knowing next to little about many superheroes before the Marvel film juggernaut came along, I was sceptical about Ant-Man. To say the least I wasn’t particularly thrilled by the prospect of a film about a man who wears a suit that can make him shrink and who can communicate with ants. Then again, before I watched Guardians of the Galaxy this time last year (see archives), I thought ‘This seems too weird for me’, so I know nothing. But there’s more humour and heart in Ant-Man than in the average Marvel film, which helps elevate this small-scale effort beyond the rather routine city-bashing we have come to expect from superhero films.
However, the initial set-up for this film is not dissimilar to that of your average Marvel romp. In 1989, scientist Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) refuses to give up a secret formula which could be very dangerous in the wrong hands and leaves S.H.I.E.L.D. The years pass, Pym drops off the radar and his company is taken over by associates, with his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) powerless to stop lines being crossed in his absence.
In the present day, robber Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is released from jail and vows to go straight in order to be able to spend more time with his daughter. And then it becomes apparent that Pym has been watching him and wants him to be a superhero. But Lang is utterly stupefied by this and doesn’t know what’s hit him. Cue much fun with Lang getting used to running around Honey I Shrunk the Kids-style in a miniature suit.
And it’s in the miniature sequences that the film really comes into its own, as here it has the chance to play around in a way that no other Marvel film has been able to. Back gardens become jungles, bathtubs become oceans and model train sets become a great deal more perilous. But the main reason the film works is Paul Rudd’s performance as the titular superhero. He has always been a go-to choice for playing the everyman, and he plays it, as per Martin Freeman, just as he would play any other role than landed on his plate. And, as per Martin Freeman, would you believe it, it works. This is ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, but with a very palpable air of ‘Wait, you want me?’
However, to say that Ant-Man is witty and nothing else would be to greatly undersell it. It has emotional aces up its sleeve too – this is the first Marvel film to try (and prove) that smaller-scale can sometimes be better. It’s refreshing to see father-daughter relationships observed with such sensitivity amidst explosions and battles.
But of course, the whole story only works if you willingly give in to the blatantly ridiculous concept of a man being friends with ants and using them to fight bad guys. But that’s the thing with Ant-Man which makes it a blessed relief from most other superhero films – it embraces its own silliness and the need for suspension of disbelief and just runs with it. Mostly it’s simply fun, and there’s a sense that Ant-Man revels in being (literally) more grounded and less pompous than its rival franchises.
Indeed the feel of something different in the film’s approach is very welcome. There’s less of the portentous save-the-world stuff, and more ‘saving one person’s world’ stuff, which is arguably equally as important, and makes the focus much more compelling. Action doesn’t have to be über-epic to be affecting, and so Ant-Man proves. But for all the changes, the film is still, in some senses, formulaic – it suffers from a particularly chronic case of Predictable Baddie Syndrome, which started in Iron Man and shows no sign of letting up in Marvel films anytime soon. Then again, the masses don’t come for that, they come for the action and the cool powers – and they certainly get those.
But I’m in serious danger of getting Marvel Fatigue, which is what happens when the cinematic landscape is populated by approximately too darn many comic-book films and the whole formula starts to become tiresome and boring. If superheroes are what will be dominating the big screen until 2028 at the earliest, then Thor help me. At least with Ant-Man, though, Marvel have taken the formula, compressed it and tried to shake it up. Although the same old bugs still persist, it’s looking fresher than usual, and in Rudd the film boasts a likeable, engaging star. The only question now is where the inevitable franchise will send him next.