ant-manDirector: Peyton Reed

Stars: Abby Ryder Fortson, Bobby Cannavale, Corey Stoll, David Dastmalchian,Evangeline Lilly, Hayley Atwell, John Slattery, Judy Greer, Martin Donovan, Michael Douglas, Michael Peña, Paul Rudd, T.I. Harris

Released: 17th July 2015 (UK)

Ant-Man was always going to be that rare thing – a Marvel movie that wasn’t going to take itself too seriously. After all, one can’t really put Ant-Man into the same room as Thor, Hulk, Wolverine or Captain America and not wonder whether they might simply dispatch him by a swift swat with a rolled-up magazine.

Every successive Marvel adaptation seems to be compelled to up the ante, either with a cast of superheroes obliterating a major city in order to save the planet from evil invaders, or by treating us to a pyrotechnic display while guys in mechanical suits punch the hell out of the villains. Er…having said that, Ant-Man is a movie where a couple of guys in mechanical suits punch the hell out of each other but, just in case we have become a little jaded by that particular spectacle, this movie at least attempts to send itself up.

To underline the fact that this outing isn’t going to be entirely serious, Ant-man here is played by Paul Rudd, better known for his comedic roles than for any action-man heroics. Marvel Studios have updated the original story by placing it into a contemporary setting and by having Dr. Hank Pym (the original Ant-Man from the comics) appear as the elder scientist (Michael Douglas) who recruits a new Ant-Man in order to stop his former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from his selling his Pym- Particle secrets to the evil organization Hydra, thus endangering the world.

Rudd plays Scott Lang, a good-natured thief who’s just been released from San Quentin after doing a stretch for breaking into some fat-cat-corporate swindler’s house and hacking his computer to incriminate him and return his ill-gotten gains to the people he conned – so you see, he’s a good guy really and his imprisonment was a travesty…blah…blah…if only the police department thought so too.

Waiting for him is his old cellmate (the versatile Michael Peña) who takes him back to San Francisco and a flat-share with a couple of other amiable ex-cons. They offer him another thieving job, but Lang has family issues – an estranged but adorable daughter he loves, an ex-wife (the much underused Judy Greer) who’s living with a cop (Bobby Cannavale). They won’t allow him back into his little daughter’s life until he has a proper job and an apartment of his own, and jobs are not easy to come by if you’re an ex-con.

Meanwhile, Dr. Hank Pym is secretly working with his beautiful daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) for the downfall of his power-crazed protégé Cross. Hope has inveigled her way into Cross’s trust and acts as his right-hand colleague and confidante. Pym recruits Lang to become Ant-Man in order to steal back his initial research and the weaponized suit that Cross has created from it. Michael Douglas here plays somewhat against type (not as his usual smug and mendacious manipulator). His Hank Pym exudes the dejected weariness of a man finally trying to live up to his moral responsibilities and atone for emotionally abandoning his daughter after her mother’s death.

To underline the fact that there’s not much for a female character to do, Lilly plays a conventional female role. Initially she’s the resentful daughter trying to find a connection with her father and is in antipathy to all the central males, but ultimately, she must support and train the man her father has chosen to do a job she herself could do quite effectively, and become his love interest now that his family has broken up. That’s pretty much it for the lovely Evangeline Lilly, (at least, until the post-credits teaser, Hey ho).

Lang’s Ant-Man suit allows him to change size instantly, which adds novelty to some of the fight scenes (notably one with Falcon, the Avenger played by Anthony Mackie). Director Peyton Reed exploits Ant-Man’s ability to shrink and grow at will and uses this in a plethora of visual jokes, such as when Ant-Man’s sprints over a gun barrel or summons armies of ants to perform microscopic tasks. I for one, really enjoyed all the ant-army sequences – Nature is so rarely asked to participate positively in the Marvel universe.

Although Ant-Man is constantly jumping back and forth between micro and macro scenarios, one doesn’t get much of a sense of the perils of being tiny as one did in the ’50 B movie The Incredible Shrinking Man. The movie does however, predictably provide nods and winks to the other Marvel corporate properties, ostensibly the Avengers franchise.

Marvel films have a tendency to lose their impetus as they meander forward to their frenetic, overblown climaxes, but in Ant-Man this narrative weakness is subverted and the movie becomes a reasonably engaging heist caper. The raid on Cross’s ultra-secure industrial facility is cleverly positioned as the precursor to the actual climactic showdown between Ant-Man and Yellow-jacket, which suitably occurs in Lang’s little daughter’s bedroom. The child’s room is made giant-sized as the two combatants shrink down and do battle across a Thomas the Tank Engine train set. The contrast between their vicious, full-sized fight and the actual macro form of their destruction – merely some toys toppling over and lightly clattering to the floor, ironically highlights the absurdity of this and the amplified antics of many other comic-book movies.

This sequence with its witty visuals and light comic touches, is one of the most visually adventurous and entertaining moments to appear in a Marvel movie. What appears to the tiny combatants to be a full-on, noisy, no-holds-barred struggle looks, at the human scale, like a minor derangement in a kiddie’s room full of toys. Perhaps we are being encouraged to read this as a metaphor?