My Marvel Diary: Ant-Man

Image: Marvel/Disney

Taking a cursory glance at today’s cinematic landscape it would appear that Marvel, or more accurately Disney, rule the world. Since 2008’s Iron Man the Marvel Cinematic Universe has built itself up into a box-office behemoth with huge cultural influence. I have never quite got the superhero hype, however. A long-time lover of ‘proper’ cinema and arthouse flicks, in recent years I have fought against this tendency to be a ‘film snob’. My Marvel Diary is a challenge to myself to watch all 23 MCU films, perhaps proving my prejudices correct, or perhaps turning me into a lifelong fan of all things superhero.

Release Date: 17th July 2015

MCU Phase: Two

Director: Peyton Reed

Writers: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Paul Rudd, Adam McKay

Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lily, Corey Stoll

May contain spoilers.

Nice. For one reason or another this is exactly the film I needed right now. After doubling my word count to tackle Age of Ultron and the state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Phase Three nears, a change of pace was in order. The Phase Two films have been a fairly disparate bunch in both genre and quality so far, but they are united in their intensity. Whatever it was each film did, it did a lot of it. Ant-Man slows things down a bit, gives us fresh characters and, appropriately enough, makes everything a bit smaller. Some might find it underwhelming, but for me this was a light, entertaining treat. The perfect amuse bouche before the bigger dishes Phase Three has to offer.

For a start, it delivers on its promise of being funny, if not an out-and-out comedy. Whilst all the MCU have a certain amount of humour running through them, this film’s comedy credentials are on a different level. Originally the film was to be directed by Edgar Wright (he of Baby Driver and the masterful ‘Cornetto trilogy’) with a script by him and Joe Cornish. When Wright, who I am a big fan of, dropped out because of the old ‘creative differences’, alarm bells started ringing during Ant-Man’s pre-production. Thankfully, the replacement team have done a good job here, with fellow comedy director Peyton Reed taking the reins and leading man Paul Rudd having a crack at the script with Anchorman’s Adam McKay. The resulting film lifts the doom and gloom that have weighed down some recent films. Infinity stones have played a big part in the MCU of late, and it’s refreshing for them not to even get a mention here. The humour is more consistent than usual, with very few jokes not landing and the cast doing a great job with a droll, smart script. Michael Peña, in particular, steals ever scene he’s in as an intensely daft criminal (he got locked up for stealing smoothie machines).

It may not be a proper comedy, but Ant-Man is an incredibly likeable film, and slots into the caper genre that we have not seen so far in the MCU. It is for much of its running time a heist movie, delivering the same frothy tone and compelling sequences of the best of that genre. It’s like watching Ocean’s Eleven if George Clooney could turn small. It has an edge to it, without being brashly, self-consciously ‘edgy’ like Guardians of the Galaxy. A lot of this comes from Paul Rudd, who brings the right amount of pathos to his role as Scott Lang whilst keeping the harder-edged, joke-cracking criminal slightly in view at all times.

There are a lot of predictable and clichéd elements to Ant-Man, it must be said. A prodigée turning both evil and against their mentor? Seen that before. A rivalry between dad and step-dad? Seen that before. An ex-con trying to make it up to his family? Seen that before. A spiky woman eventually falling for the man she distrusted? Seen that before. Good technology being used for war profiteering? Seen that before in the MCU. Yet somehow these things do not seem too distracting in Ant-Man. They stop it from being a really great film, yes, but they do not get in the way of the film’s good stuff. Most of which comes from its small-scale approach.

There’s no S.H.I.E.L.D. around interfering in the plot, no super-villain hell-bent on destroying the world. It is a self-contained and localised film. This allows us plenty of time with our three leads: Scott Lang, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and Hope Pym (Evangeline Lily). When the three of them are together the film has depth, warmth, humour, and heart. Corey Stoll’s villain is a bit bland; he’s not the best MCU bad guy, but he’s not the worst either. The heist structure and new angle of Ant-Man having his own child to protect keep the stakes high despite any weakness. 

I liked the way the film gently references the wider MCU, too. Scott Lang saying ‘we should call The Avengers’ highlights his small, insignificant place in the world compared to our other heroes, and reminds us that this film is about him as a character, not a universe-expanding mega-smash. It’s not a nod and a wink to the audience, either, but a direct acknowledgment that the MCU characters all live in the same world, and that the existence of The Avengers changes that world for everyone else. I’m happy that of all the team it’s Falcon who turns up, helping keep the smaller feel and giving him something to do in the process.

The action scenes I really enjoyed, giving the MCU a different kind of visual flair to before. The minute hero gave Reed plenty of opportunity for something playful and exciting in the action scenes, and he certainly delivers come the climactic battle. The MCU is always most fun when it has a fresh, light feel to it and that’s something Ant-Man brings in spades. The ending is nicely satisfying as well, with Scott lined up to join The Avengers. The ending note that step-dad Paxton (Bobby Cannavale) is not just a dick is a pleasant surprise too. Like the rest of the film, it is a very charming approach to take.

Perhaps the best barometer of a first solo film’s success is whether or not you’re excited to see the hero on screen again. I’m pleased to report that I am. Scott Lang is the kind of funny, plucky, and underestimated guy who is fun to root for because he’s not the main attraction. Like the Ron Weasley of The Avengers. If he turns up in any big films I will be cheering him on alongside the likes of Iron Man and Captain America.

The Sting

Two for the price of one, and both quite good too. First we see Hank Pym revealing a winged suit to his daughter Hope, ready for her to become The Wasp in future films. After that Captain America and Falcon are seen finding Bucky Barnes somewhere. Falcon says he ‘knows a guy’ who might be able to help them, and we have a good set-up for an Ant-Man return.

Where it Ranks

For my own records, I rate every film I see out of 10. Ant-Man is an incredibly 7/10 film. It’s not essential viewing in the MCU, but I’d rush to re-watch it much sooner than some of the bigger films before it.

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  2. The Avengers
  3. Iron Man 3
  4. Guardians of the Galaxy
  5. Iron Man
  6. Captain America: The First Avenger
  7. Ant-Man
  8. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  9. Iron Man 2
  10. Thor
  11. Thor: The Dark World
  12. The Incredible Hulk

Andrew Young