I find some films almost impossible to review. Some like Mad Max: Fury Road are so overwhelming that they’re hard to process. Others don’t seem worth bothering with; I managed to write a paragraph on Jurrasic World as part of a post about velocirapotors.
By contrast, the review of Ant Man basically writes itself. I complained that its predecessor in Marvel canon, Avengers: Age of Ultron, was overblown and unable to contain all the characters, subplots and mythology jammed into it. Ant Man, a film about someone whose superpower, is shrinking himself avoids this problem.
Writing that seems trite but coming a few months after the overstuffed Age of Ultron it’s very welcome. Rather than a globe spanning adventure containing every character Marvel can get the IP for, its cast of characters is basically composed of two (broadly defined) families. That allows it to savour its most appealing elements while staying reasonably compact. Its run time is less than two hours rather than closer to three – a difference my bum and bladder both appreciated – yet of the two films it feels by far the less rushed. And in such a compact story the conflagration of the different elements feels natural rather than contrived for the sake of epicness. Ant Man thus delivers more entertainment with less endurance than Age of Ultron.
That this film has been a modest success is a substantial triumph. Not only was there a real risk the core concept would appear ridiculous but the path from that concept to the screen was rather fraught. It was initially supposed to be directed by Edgar Wright, who’d previously made cult classics like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim vs the World. However, he walked out in protest at the changes Marvel demanded to the script he had written with long time collaborator Joe Cornish.
Fortunately for people who like Wright’s work – and there really should be no other kind of person – Ant Man still feels a lot like one of his films. His trademarks, like action synced to music, are all there. Strikingly the most Wrightesque scene, in which someone delivers a ridiculous piece of exposition accompanied by fast cuts that might as well end ‘and go to the Winchester and wait for it all to blow over’, was apparently added after Wright’s departure from the project. That suggests he style remained an influence on the new creative team. And if, as I suspect, the climactic battle aboard a toy train set was Wright’s invention then it will rival the killing zombies with records sequence in Shaun of the Dead as his most entertaining set piece.
This is not to say it’s perfect. The plot moves along grooves which are sufficiently well worn that one can tell what will happen at least ten minutes before it does. And while the gang of goofy ethnically stereotyped petty criminals undeniably provide some of the funniest moments of the film, it’s still not great that there’s a gang of goofy ethnically stereotyped criminals.
Despite this Ant Man is massive fun and an unmistakable victory for Marvel. Nonetheless, it is potentially a bad indicator for the studio’s future films. If smaller is better, then colossal projects like Civil War and the Infinity War are likely to underwhelm.
Summary: 8/10 – just the right amount of a good thing.