AntMan-1Marvel’s Ant-Man has had one of the more troublesome productions in Marvel Studio’s early history. Developed for 8 years by Edgar Wright, things took a strange turn last year when Wright left the project mere weeks before shooting was due to begin, due to that forever vague reasoning of ‘creative differences.’ In stepped Peyton Reed, the seasoned director of comedies such as Bring it On and Yes Man. He is not a director with a distinct style like Wright, but he is a man who knows how to make a film with his hands tied behind back due to his many years of experience (he worked behind the scenes on Back to the Future). The choice of Reed seemed to suggest Marvel were playing it safe with Ant-Man, avoiding anything too radical that would make this title even more of a risk than it already is. While Ant-Man could make a case for being the oddest Marvel movie thus far, it is hard to shake the feeling that this is not the best version of this film that we could have seen. But hey, at least it is still fun.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a cat burglar recently out of jail and desperate to forge a relationship with his young daughter. Struggling to make ends meet, Scott decides to embark on one last job in the hope of a big payday. The target, however, is expecting him. That target is elderly scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who once held the mantle of the ‘Ant-Man’, a hero with the power to shrink on command via a special suit powered by Pym’s formula known as the Pym Particle. Hank enlists Scott to help him thwart the plans of his protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) an ambitious but narrow-minded inventor who has come close to replicating the Pym Particle, with nefarious intentions. Hank and Scott, along with Hank’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly) plan a heist of epic proportions in AntMan-order to ensure that Hank’s technology does not fall in to the wrong hands.

Where Ant-Man succeeds is in its decision to construct the film like a heist movie. Marvel does tend to do well when it plays with genres, putting their heroes into different scenarios and seeing how they react. The film finds its footing when it engages in the conventions of the heist genre, with scenes popping with a certain zany-ness that you cannot deny has an air of Wright about it. The film pops with an energy that is infectious mainly because the film is simply concerned with telling its own narrative, with only the odd reference to the wider Marvel universe coming in to play in ways which feel far more organic than Avengers: Age of Ultron. 

Ant-Man is a property that carries with it a similar risk factor to that of Guardians of the Galaxy last year. They both boast a comedy star turned into action hero, and both deal with comic-book characters who are not the easiest to sell. Guardians succeeded by producing a film which embraced the weirdness of its source material and allowed Gunn to pour his heart out into the script (all the while sticking to the Marvel formula). Ant-Man never quite gets as funky as it should. Yes, it is breezy and fun, but in a very safe and conventional manner. It manages to provide something a bit different to the Marvel formula, but the heist plotline never seems quite enough to carry the film through, particularly once we end up in a finale which just jumps locations to have two climactic, and somewhat generic, bust-ups (aside from that truly excellent Thomas the Tank Engine gag, the fights simply amount to a lot of explosions and shrinking and re-sizing back and forth).

AntMan-2The micro scenes of Ant-Man are visually impressive, with Reed ensuring that everything has a sense of reality to it, with nothing appearing too much like a cartoon, despite the numerous and long effects shots. The issue with these scenes is that they never really stretch beyond the conventions of the shrinking movie. Scott encounters water, associates himself with bugs and walks among carpet fibres, but all this can be experienced in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. The scenes are visually arresting, and the extent of the abilities that the suit affords Scott are articulated well enough,  but it never feels particularly all that inventive, and when it does start to get into some psychedelic funk as it dabbles in the Quantum Realm, it runs away from it just as it gets interesting.

The DNA of Edgar Wright can be felt through a few sequences within the movie, while Adam McKay and Paul Rudd’s re-write seems to have fleshed out some of the broader humour, and ultimately allows Rudd to have a lot of fun in the role. He provides a stable and affable point of focus for the film, doing his best to sell his clichéd back-story and to work with the rest of the cast. While he has good rapport with Michael Pena, elsewhere some performances struggle to really make an impact. The mentor/men-tee relationship between Rudd and Douglas has some nice beats AntMan-4but never fully convinces, while Evangeline Lilly’s Hope offers very little other than to tease the future appearance of The Wasp.

Ant-Man feels like an early Phase One Marvel movie, one which seems simply content with having fun without pushing the envelope too much. My reaction to this particular movie feels very similar to the first Thor, a movie I enjoyed well enough but one which didn’t truly excite or prove all that thrilling. It almost feels limited by its heist premise, despite the fact that working in such a sub-plot signals it out from the MCU. It never quite feels as original as it wants to be, and Edgar Wright casts a long shadow over the proceedings. We do not have another Guardians on our hands, but what we do have is a perfectly fine and light summer blockbuster.

3/5- Light, fun and distracting, but not as inventive as it could be, Ant-Man rides on the charm of its lead and top-notch visual effects.