Monday, 27 July 2015

'Ant-Man' Review (2015)

As much of an avid follower of all things superhuman, even I had to admit, 'Ant-Man' was an uphill battle excitement-wise. Starting production 9 years ago, 'Ant-Man' initially garnered the excitement of fans of 'Shaun of the Dead' director, Edgar Wright who was attached to direct the project. However, much like the character the film is based on, 'Ant-Man' was passed over in favour of Men of Iron and Captains of America. Creative differences caused Mr. Wright to leave the project, with Peyton Reed shuffling into fill the director's chair. Trailers for the film seemed to lack a grasp on a general tone; the lead role was seemingly miscast, and to be honest the core concept seemed extremely difficult to pull off. The last time a superhero movie had issues getting the audience to go with it's premise the results were abysmal.

Van Wilder is space was not nearly as cool as it sounds.

So with all that said, I had subsided expectations for 'Ant-Man'. I didn't go so far as saying the movie would be bad, I just didn't expect to be blown away. Thankfully, the movie fared pretty well, and was one of the better experiences in the theatre this year. Set some time after the events of Age of Ultron, 'Ant-Man' continues the saga of the marvel cinematic universe. While it's set in the present day, the movie actually opens in a flashback featuring young Michael Douglas, courtesy of digital enhancement.

Quick aside: I used to believe that every film was like Boyhood, and the same actor had been filmed for decades in different films from they were born. Watching 'Ant-Man' brought back that feeling of wonder as I was convinced that the production for 'Ant-Man' began much earlier than I had expected and Michael Douglas shot his scenes back in his Wall Street days. The effect is not only impressive but it helps to establish the scene. It makes the film's story, which spans generations, all the more organic.

Speaking of the story, 'Ant-man' isn't the most complicated Superhero film in the world. Hank Pym, played by time traveler Michael Douglas, was the Tony Stark of his day, developing a suit with astonishing abilities and refusing to let said technology get into the hands of those who would misuse it. After those wrong hands almost get on his technology, he does the super scientist equivalent of taking his ball and going home since his colleagues refuse to play fair. Fast forward 30 years and Pym is now a recluse and mostly a sleeping partner to his own company Pym Industries, now run by his ex-protegee Darren Cross, played by Corey Stoll. Cross discovers the Ant-Man tech once existed and decides to build his own version of the suit. Those wrong hands seem to be time travelers themselves. Perhaps actor Michael Douglas should keep his time traveling technology locked away like character Hank Pym did with his Ant-Man technology. When Cross is close to the realization of his own shrink tech with the clear intent of military application, Pym, along side scientist daughter Hope Van Dyne, decides it's up to the Ant-Man to stop this evil before it can even begin...WITH HIS TIME MACHI- I mean shrinking suit.

You can't tell me that's not the face of he who traverses the temporal plane.

Essentially that's the idea, use the original suit to get the new suit and destroy any trace of its development before it gets out into the crafty world of war. The problem is, the Ant-Man suit isn't built for long term as the users brain chemistry gets messed up after prolonged use. I'd love to tell you more about that but that's literally the only explanation we're given. Enter Paul Rudd's Scott Lang, an ex-convict with a heart of gold and a masters in electrical engineering who can't hold a job from the all knowing Baskin Robbins. Prior to his arrest he was a frequent thief and con man making him the perfect candidate for Ant-Manning about. Not to mention Lang has a daughter to provide for and an ex-wife to impress and thus the superhero heist man has his motivation.

The performances are actually better than one might anticipate. Typically in a Marvel film, big name actors with a long pedigree of stellar work are brought in not to do much. Like your Anthony Hopkinses, Glenn Closes, William Hurts, and your Ben Kingsleys. They might have prominent roles but they're very much sidelined. The best use of an actor of that calibre thus far has probably been Robert Redford in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, that is until Douglas. Douglas gave probably my favourite performance of the film and I don't think it would've worked without him. His role is multi layered, as a mentor to Scott, a father trying to mend his relationship with his daughter and a bitter genius attempting to salvage his work before it becomes the catalyst for a post apocalyptic nightmare. Douglas is able to hop, skip and jump between whatever the camera needs him to be at any point in time with ease. This is in no doubt due to his time travelling abilities which would have of course enabled him to take part in reshoots upon reshoots. 

"These eyes have seen the sun die and then be born again" - Michael Douglas, Licensed Delorean/Tardis Driver

The Ant-Man himself isn't as remarkable but does a fine job. Although he might be the only superhero with a criminal record, he's the one with the least edge. Paul Rudd is no doubt perfect for this as his characters are generally nice guys. Evangeline Lily is decent but her character is slightly one note. After her first protest about not being her father's first choice for grand superhuman larceny, the subsequent hundred fall on deaf ears, and it becomes hard to care about her plight. The other breakout performance is from Michael Pena as Scott's ex con friend Luis. Heavily improvised roles can be hit or a miss but Pena definitely hits. He finds away to make his character feel as reel as possible which makes his improv scenes less like...well improv. That's an impressive feat, it's even more impressive to be the comic relief in a film with such a comedic tone and feel necessary. 

This being a film about a man who shrinks down to the size of ants he can then communicate with, the tone was rightfully very light. It's refreshing that among the current crop of supermovies there can exist a film like 'Ant-Man' which is a much smaller film. Like most the films in Marvels first phase of continuity 'Ant-Man' takes place in one location, San Francisco, over the course of 3 or 4 days. Instead of causing large wanton destruction to populated areas, Ant-Man trains in Hank Pym's front lawn and fights his foe on toy train sets. Said train is one of two instances where 'Ant-Man' makes fun of superhero tropes and cliches, the other being Ant-Man surrounded by unnecessary destruction of a miniature model city built to scale. The shrinking scenes are not just creative but they're used to great comedic effect. It's the sort of comedy the effect was built for but had become extremely played in the years past. 'Ant-Man' has sight gags that would make Rick Moranis cry with laughter.

Rick, if you're reading this, please come back to cinemas.

While 'Ant-Man' has a lot going for it, there's also a few things that don't work. Certain scenes seem to have no ending that works to move the story along and are simply abandoned like Hank Pym abandoning his own daughter. There's a few cringe worthy moments of exposition, but there are also a few scenes when exposition is done extremely well. The sequence of events is terribly predictable, especially if you're versed in the heist film genre. Corey Stoll is entertaining when he's on screen but is ultimately forgettable and simply a foil for the hero to conquer. As I mentioned Evangeline Lily is good but there's not much to be done in her role, but certainly her character will be featured in Marvel films to come. Perhaps 'Ant-Man's biggest sin is that it feels disjointed at times. In addition to the scenes that have no coherent way of sequencing to the next, there are one or two plot developments that seem to come out of nowhere with no good reason for their existence. Not to mention the film sometimes lacks a balance between it's comedy and it's drama but this is nowhere near as offensive as it was in 'Thor: The Dark World' and is actually more of a less concentrated 'Guardians of the Galaxy'.These problems are in no doubt due to the change in the creative staff so close to filming, but surely they could have been avoided through the advisement of time lord Michael 'The Doctor' Douglas.

If you look closely you can see Douglas turning his time turner in the poster.

Aside from that, 'Ant-Man' is a film that mostly works. The times in which it doesn't are pretty much forgotten. They don't ruin the film simply because it doesn't take itself too seriously and begs you not to either. 'Ant-Man' also is the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film that doesn't suffer the plaguing question of "Why don't you just call the Avengers to deal with this?. It's funny, it's visually interesting and it's a film with a lot of heart. I especially enjoyed the parallel relationships in the film. Hank's relationship with Hope is something of a warning to Scott if he's unable to be a prominent part in his own daughter's life. The film is full of characterization and character relationships that make it worth the price of admission and overshadow it's meddling flaws.

Arbritrary Numerical Rating: 8.7/10

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