Although Ant-Man is a deliberately smaller scale entry in the Marvel Universe, it arrives with large scale expectations given the troubled production history. Original director Edgar Wright left the project citing “creative differences” – a term which covers a multitude of sins. At any rate, new director Peyton Reed picked up the pieces (with Wright still co-credited for the screenplay) and regardless of whether or not Wright’s version would have been better, the finished product is actually a lot more diverting than anyone had a right to expect.
The plot centres around one of Marvel’s less well-known superheroes, albeit one who crops up in various Avengers comics. Reformed burglar Scott Lang (a winning Paul Rudd) is released from prison, desperately wanting to earn the respect of his young daughter. Inevitably his past catches up with him, but at that point Lang comes to the attention of Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a mysterious scientist with a top secret suit that shrinks and provides the user with increased strength and… power over ants.
Yes, this is as ridiculous as it sounds, but it is a great deal of fun. Pym is concerned that his technology is about to fall into the wrong hands, and convinces Lang to work with him and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), to perform a heist that will prevent this catastrophe. And that is what Ant-Man is essentially: a heist movie. To give the Marvel Studio their credit, they never quite do the same thing twice.
The visual effects are stunning, and recall earlier miniaturisation themed movies ranging from The Incredible Shrinking Man to Fantastic Voyage, Innerspace and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Whether dodging a deluge of bath water, spinning on a record, riding a flying ant or beating up bad guys after leaping up on their shoulders, Lang’s antics are thoroughly enjoyable, and often very funny. One sequence involving a toy Thomas the Tank Engine train set is particularly memorable, and contains some enjoyably surreal turns.
Performances are all decent too, especially Michael Douglas, whose Hank Pym provides the moral compass of the story that places Lang on the path to redemption. There are some neat cameos I won’t spoil here, and the imaginatively staged action scenes wisely eschew the carnage wreaked in previous Marvel movies, including the most recent Age of Ultron. As such, like last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man feels offbeat but fresh.
If I had to pick nits, I’d say the first half of the film feels a tad uneven, but once Ant-Man hits its stride, it is very entertaining. As with all these films, the true test is what one’s children thought of it, and both of mine gave it a big thumbs-up. Don’t walk out during the end credits either, or you’ll miss the mid-credits scene, and even better the post-credits scene, which neatly sets up next year’s Captain America: Civil War.