SCREENPLAY: JOE CORNISH, ADAM McKAY, PAUL RUDD, EDGAR WRIGHT
DIRECTOR: PEYTON REED
RELEASE DATE: JULY 17 2015
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been around awhile, giving us epic films in a cohesive, connected world. Now that universe goes into a smaller direction with the release of Ant-Man, a film following two lead characters who have both worn the identity in the comics, and who, while very different in backgrounds, have some common ground. It's a lighter film with a good sense of humour that still plays to the strong characterization and history of the characters. Directed by Peyton Reed, who has a background in comedy, the film evokes the irreverent tone of last summer's Guardians of the Galaxy while moving things into a very small scale indeed.
We first meet our hero Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a thief with a tendency to break and enter and steal things - not quite your usual protagonist, but he's a charming sort of guy, and we get to like him regardless. His family life is a mess - he's trying to fix up his relationship with his young daughter Cassie, while his ex wife (Judy Greer) is now involved with a cop (Bobby Cannavale) - not the easiest thing for a crook to have to deal with. Scott is just out of prison, having second thoughts about his career choices - there has to be a better way to make a living, though he's still associating with criminals, including his former cellmate Luis (Michael Pena).
Scott crosses paths with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a scientist who's become something of a bitter recluse after losing control of his company. Hank can relate to the family difficulties - he's a widower whose relationship with his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) is strained, but he sees something in Scott worth redeeming. He's worried about the use of technology he's invented - Pym particles, which can shrink things down to the small scale - being converted for darker uses. Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), the one time protege who supplanted him, has his own agenda for that technology. Pym asks Scott for his help - which involves suiting up in a special uniform designed to assist the human body adapt to that small scale, with a few other tricks for good measure.
Hope, Scott, and Hank
The film has been in the works for years, and Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) was once tapped to direct, having had co-written a story with Joe Cornish. Wright left the project over creative differences, and screenwriter Adam McKay (along with cast member Rudd) polished the story. McKay's background is also in comedy, as is Reed's - Reed directed films like Yes Man and The Break-Up - the comedic background of both writer and director show itself in the way the film comes across. It establishes the characters and weaves them firmly into the Marvel cinematic universe. And while there is an irreverent, comedic side of things, there's also strong characterization, from the parallel father-daughter strained relationships to the villain who doesn't see himself as such. Reed shows a deft touch as a director - I like the way he stages break and enter scenes, and he can handle action well. He paces the movie well, keeping things moving briskly along.
There's a healthy dose of CGI in the film, but it serves the story well, and doesn't feel like CGI. A lot of that has to do with how Scott interacts with the world at insect level, and certainly the ants he interacts with (and learns to communicate with) feel like they're sharing the same space as him. It also reflects in the sense the audience has that we're down at that same scale- a stream of water, for instance, has the look of a tsunami wave. Gunshots fired into a model city have a catastrophic feel, as well, when one is the size of an insect, and the special effects crews do fine work in conveying that.
I like the production values of the film. Pym's personal lab reflects the man himself, a place of curiousities. It's a contrast with the corporate sleekness of his former company, no longer in his control. That contrast also reflects itself in the two different tech designed uniforms making use of Pym Particles in the film. The Ant-Man uniform has influences from the various comics designs over the years, and has a utilitarian look to it, something you'd expect out of a scientist - efficient and purposeful. The Yellowjacket design that ends up coming into the picture is something else- sleek, aggressive, dangerous, and militaristic. Both designs suit the film well.
in diminutive action
The casting was well done. There are the requisite cameos that you would expect. Stan Lee turns up, of course; the Marvel co-founder and writer has been doing a lot of these cameos in films done by Marvel Studios for years, as well as films based on characters from Marvel but produced by other studios. There are also references and nods to the larger cinematic universe - each of which is a treat for those wondering how this would all fit into the larger frame of things. Michael Pena as Luis fronts a group of petty crooks- but these characters aren't the heavies, they're comic relief, and Pena certainly plays to that, garnering some of the laughs along the way.
Corey Stoll has the look of a don't mess with me tough guy mode as an actor, and I've seen him in a number of roles, often playing villains or cops. He's got a hard look to him, and it serves him well as Cross, who comes across as a double dealing underhanded executive. Cross is the sort of villain who doesn't think of himself that way - he doesn't see his lack of ethics for what it is. In his mind he's in the right, and the ends justify the means. That reflects itself in the Yellowjacket design, which expresses his aggressiveness. The shades of gray of the character make him a compelling villain, and it's a good twist on the Yellowjacket concept- in the comics, Yellowjacket is in fact an alternate codename for Hank Pym.
Evangeline Lilly has made quite an impression, from her role on the series Lost to her turn as an elf in two parts of The Hobbit trilogy. I like her take on Hope. The character is smart and can take care of herself - something that certainly shows itself in the film. Ideally she might be the better fit for the uniform as a superhero - but the state of things with her father take things in a different direction. The relationship is so strained that she's taken on the surname of her late mother, and there's a lot of resentment and estrangement between them. Hope's journey as a character in the film is about reconciliation, and Lilly really plays to that as the film goes along. I wouldn't mind seeing the character perhaps take after her mother - the Marvel Cinematic Universe needs a Wasp.
A lot of changes have been done in terms of bringing Hank Pym from the comics to the big screen. The character is a founding Avenger in the comics, but here he is a scientist with ties to S.H.I.E.L.D. in the past. Where he is brilliant but occasionally mentally unstable in the comics, here he's brilliant but a recluse. And the story has added about thirty years onto his age. The essence of the character remains the same: a gifted, smart man with a strongly grounded sense of ethics. I like how Douglas conveys that in his performance, while bringing across the elements of worry the character feels at having his technology misused, the strain of loss in his life, and the difficulties he has with his daughter. Douglas also adds just the right touch of dry humour here and there. Hank Pym's a wise character - and a very human one, and I got to like him a lot through the film. It's a terrific take on the character.
I got to like Paul Rudd through the film as well. I've only seen him in one previous project of note - a television adaptation of The Great Gatsby - as I have not seen his numerous comedies in the last few years (I have a deep aversion to Judd Apatow as a director - the man's like fingernails on a blackboard to me). Rudd brings a charming, affable quality to the role of Scott Lang, a reluctant hero who grows into the role (a reminder of Peter Quill in last year's Guardians). The character's struggling to be a better person, if only for his daughter's sake, and that's the sort of thing the audience can relate to and root for, and Rudd brings that across in his performance. His initial status as a crook reminds me of George Clooney playing Danny Ocean - a disarming scoundrel with a plan. A reluctant hero he might be, but Lang does rise to the occasion in doing the right thing, and Rudd's portrayal takes the character through that journey.
Ant-Man is a new look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe that gives the audience fresh ground to cover while maintaining enough connections to the larger continuity. It's got a good sense of humour, likable lead actors who flesh out their characters in the right way, a very human heroine, and an underhanded antagonist with a mean streak. The film is an oddball kind of film - which makes it all the more appealing. I enjoyed it - and I look forward to seeing more of these characters down the line.