Ant-Man: Film Review
Cast: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly
Director: Peyton Reed
It's fair to say that as the Marvel Universe expanded its horizons, those running it really did start to lose track of what made the earlier movies so great - character and a degree of intimacy.
Particularly in the last Avengers movie, which concluded in a soulless retread formulaic finale that was redolent of many before, relied on a MacGuffin and that was so steeped in angst, all the joie de vivre threatened to be crushed forever.
So, it's a joy to report that, despite a lack of ant-icipation, Ant-man takes Marvel back to its origins, with a flick that feels like a set- up / origins piece that was so prevalent of Phase One and one that is an utter blast in the cinema due to its simple plot.
Those unfamiliar with the incredible shrinking man needn't feel left out.
It's the story of down-on-his-luck Scott Lang (a brilliantly vulnerable yet timed to comic perfection Paul Rudd), an ex-con with a moral code who just wants to do right by his daughter Cassie after getting out of jail.
But Lang is singled out by Doctor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas back on form and looking wearied enough to suggest an age and lifetime in the role prior to where we join the movie) to be the recipient of his shrinking super-suit and help Pym ensure that the current CEO of the Pym Industries Darren Cross (Corey Stoll in a relatively thankless role as the rather average and cartoon villain of the piece) doesn't use the tech for the wrong reasons and let it fall into the wrong hands.
Ant-Man is refreshingly small scale and, for the most part, all the better for it.
Sure, it's entrenched in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it never feels fully bound by its conventions, ongoing storylines or bogged down by the Infinity Gems saga.
There are nods to the world around and an acknowledgement of the events in Age of Ultron (even Pym has a wariness about the Avengers getting their hands on their tech) but this is flick is more about the story of fathers and their legacies, rather than super-sized and angsty heroes coming together to save the day.
Ant-Man is at pains to put its redemption lessons and daddy issues front and centre of the film, with a mantra of the ordinary man being a hero squarely at the fore. Lang's told by his ex-wife at one point that his daughter thinks he's "her hero - so just be the person she already thinks you are"; Pym himself talks a lot about how he failed his daughter Hope (a worryingly sidelined Evangeline Lilly) and Cross is angry that his mentor Pym never fully trusted him or embraced him.
But it's the fact that Marvel's embraced these issues and looked more to address the intimacy of the films that's not proved an insignifc-ant contribution to the overall effect.
Granted, there are some pretty impressive visuals that revel in their Honey I Shrunk the Kids and Planet of the Giants aesthetics, thanks to Pena's performance, there's a crackling line of comedy that buzzes all the way through (and clearly has Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish's DNA all over it) but there is never anything that wanders too far from the emotional edge that's clearly running through this ant's mandibles. And it's all wonderfully executed by Yes-Man director Peyton Reed.
It's not all perfect though - Stoll is never a full-on threat as the bad guy and the Marvel truck has gone back a few steps in its treatment and execution of women in this piece. Lilly deserved more of a presence in this first film (even if a mid-credits coda seems to promise more ahead) and is sidelined; it's once again a boy's world in this superior heist flick. And it has to be said the appearance of the wider world intrudes into this film - a mid-film sequence and even the post-credits moment feels like Marvel's going back to easy old habits, which is unwelcome after what's just transpired.
Ultimately, thanks to a massively charming Rudd and the lighter touch of the script, Ant-Man is entertaining fare, a welcome diversion from the darker edges and continual set-ups that have become the norm for these films and shorn of the ongoing mythology.
Ant-Man is light, inventive, frothy and above all, fun - this caper has refreshed the Marvel cinematic offering and it's to be hoped that this formula won't be lost in future.