Monday, 19 September 2016

Ant-Man, by Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish and others (Marvel Films) | review

Scott Lang (played with great charm by Paul Rudd) used to have principles, but he became a cat burglar to expose corporate corruption, and found he was good at it. He’s been in prison a while, and after getting out tries to go straight, but it’s tough to get or keep a job with his record, and soon he’s back with his group of criminal friends (you can’t blame him, they’re a funny bunch of fellows) and planning a new job. They’re going to break into the house of Hank Pym. Yes, that Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, but here he is older and played by Michael Douglas. (Who has, may I say, left it way too late in his career to change his mind about acting in fantasy films. Just imagine the films he could have got made in his prime.) It’s easy to understand why the film-makers decided to skip over Pym, given his unwholesome history in the comics, and especially in The Ultimates, such an influence on the Avengers films, but at least they give him a history as Ant-Man – albeit a secret one, as a covert operative. Anyway, one thing leads to another and before you know it Scott is wearing the Ant-Man suit he stole and Hank is training him to use it. It lets him shrink to the size of an ant, and talk to them too. Also helping with the training is Janet van Dyne, Pym’s daughter, played by Evangeline Lilly, so good in Lost and the Hobbit films, and equally good here. There’s a bad guy working on the same technology, who has taken over Pym’s company, and he’s happy to kill lots of sheep to get it working. Can Scott pull himself together and save the day when he’s under more pressure than ever?

It was surprising that this film wasn’t worse, knowing the little bit that we do of the circumstances in which it was made, intended director Edgar Wright leaving the picture after years of development. It’s hard not to feel it’s the ghost of the film it would have been, though it’s clearly very close to what he planned: he and Joe Cornish still get the screenplay credit, his trademark use of music (The Cure, in this case) and edits (a sequence showing how a rumour gets passed around) are still on display, and the scene of Ant-Man fighting two security guards looks exactly like it did in the original proof-of-concept footage shown at San Diego Comic-Con. An interpolated fight with one of the Avengers seems most out of place, both in the film and in Ant-Man’s career: there’s no way he should have been able to hold his own with an experienced hero yet. (Though I still enjoyed it.) This could have been one of the best of the Marvel movies, but it’s not too bad as it is, it’s decent enough.

An aside: some reviewers have commented on the misgendering of the ants in the film, with Ant-Man calling them guys and giving his favourite a boy’s name. We saw it in France, VOSTF-style, and it was interesting to see that the subtitles changed all that, with Scott shouting for les filles and calling his favourite ant Antoinette: a little example of how things can change in translation. Stephen Theaker ***

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