********* 7 out of 10 *********
Director: Peyton Reed
Actors: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly
It’s gotta be tough! That’s what I want to say to begin with. Creating one movie after another in the same cinematic universe that would continue to enthrall the audience and be successful at the box-office, that has to be a tough task. But Marvel has done it brilliantly till now, over eight years. After Avengers: Age of Ultron was another box-office blockbuster, Marvel did not waste much time in beginning with Phase III of its mission. Phase I brought the first batch of superheroes, and it was fun to see their beginning; Phase II was all the more exciting after The Avengers turned out to be a mind-blowing experience, and so we wanted to see more of these superheroes continuing on their journey. But by now we have had a plethora of superhero movies, the best ones coming usually from Marvel, and we have seen the world being saved so many times, and had a feel of so many different superheroes, that to come up with a new character which will still get the audience back in the theatres would be a heck of a job. Phase III is thus going to be a real challenge for Marvel! With Ant-Man, Marvel has gone back to its simplistic formula – bring in a likable guy, give him a reason to be a superhero, make the audience strike a chord with him during the course of the movie, and then conclude it with a thrilling face-off with the antagonist. And that formula still works. Ant-Man has been tidily made, a little too safe at times, but gives few reasons to complain, and sets us on the path for the next Marvel adventure.
Ant-Man begins with a shot of 1989, where Henry Pym (Michael Douglas) is outraged with S.H.I.E.L.D. for trying to replicate his shrinking technology, and vows to hide it. Coming back to the present time, we meet Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) who has just been released from serving a sentence for burglary. Lang is finding it hard to get a job, and pay the child support money to his ex-wife, due to which he is unable to meet his little girl. At the same time, Henry Pym’s protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) and Pym’s daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), have taken Pym’s company forward and are on the verge of recreating the lost shrinking technology. Henry Pym is aware of the dangers that can haunt the world if Cross is able to complete his experiment, and is out looking for a guy to assist him in stopping Cross. The paths of Pym and Lang are about to meet.
The Ant-Man movie has been in the works for a long time, way before Disney acquired Marvel. Edgar Wright had been at the forefront to get this project going, and eventually as Marvel’s cinematic universe started growing, the project was green-lit with Edgar Wright to direct it. Due to creative differences, however, Wright stepped aside from the project. Now we would never exactly know what went wrong, but still the overall treatment of the movie is said to incorporate much of the story written by Wright and his writing partner Joe Cornish, who are are given credit for it too in the movie. And the story is quite well-written; simplistic, yes, but enjoyable too. It cleverly brings together the two Ant-Man characters of the comics, Henry Pym and Scott Lang, in a mentor-apprentice kind of way, which reminded me of Batman Beyond TV series where a retired Bruce Wayne hands over his cape to a younger chap. Bringing out the fatherly love of Scott Lang gives this character an instant likability, and then there is no reason left that you would not want him to succeed.
The movie does have a relatively slow start, made all the more acute if you came in expecting the beginning to be something like Avengers: Age of Ultron. But director Peyton Reed patiently builds both his key characters, and then works on bringing their separate worlds together, which sort of takes up the first half of the movie. Ant-Man gives the impression of being the first movie of a franchise, which in a way it is, but we usually see a Marvel movie as part of a package, and this one should be Number 12 of that package. Ant-Man thus takes time to build up on the intensity, the drama, the heightened emotions, which could be frustrating to some. But the second half picks up pace, and by then we are sold to the idea of a tiny ant-sized superhero. Peyton Reed pulls off the smaller world of Ant-Man brilliantly, and the scale of things are brought to our attention time and again, by the zooming in and out of the cameras. The ‘tiny size’ is the unique feature of this movie, and Reed has not been afraid to flaunt it, which works. The movie in fact isn’t afraid to laugh at its own character’s ridiculous superpower of being small, and you would get a few chuckles during the final battle which is taking place on a child’s toy-train. But the visual effects are once again top-notch, and the whole idea of an army of ants along side Ant-Man actually makes for some thrilling scenes on the big screen. The music though is a disappointment from Christophe Beck; it never achieves the sort of crescendo that would elevate the excitement on screen, and that seemed to me to be one reason why at times the movie’s pace feels languid.
Ant-Man has its charm, and it holds its own in this massive world that Marvel has built. That comes from its two main actors – Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas. Rudd is a brilliant catch by Marvel (I am assuming he would have come cheap too for now), given that this actor had never been pat of something so massive previously. But he fits the bill of a likable fellow, right from his days in Friends. Paul Rudd cuts down on the comedy though in Ant-Man, and portrays a sincere and hard-working character who can be a cool customer in tough situations. It’s a role that you cannot imagine a Chis Hemsworth or a Robert Downey, Jr. pulling it off, and so in hindsight, Paul Rudd looks to be a great casting decision. As for Michael Douglas, he has lost nothing of his charisma and screen presence that we have seen for so many years now. An authoritative character in the movie, Douglas adds his own style and personality to Henry Pym, which makes him as much integral to the movie as Paul Rudd. Marvel has been working with veterans for sometime now, bringing in the likes of Tommy Lee Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Robert Redford and now Michael Douglas, to add more quality to the final product, and it has certainly worked well each time.
There is a very strong cast of characters surrounding Rudd and Doglas. Prominent among them is Evangeline Lilly, playing Douglas’ daughter in the film. This is definitely one of the best female characters written in the Marvel universe so far, enacted with aplomb by Lilly. She is head-strong, successful, trained in martial arts, and as far away from being a ‘damsel in distress’ as you can imagine, which is always refreshing to see. As the cry to drive out sexism from movies keeps growing louder, roles such as that of Hope van Dyne are what we would love to see, and kudos to Evangeline Lilly for nailing it. Corey Stoll as Darren Cross / Yellowjacket makes for a different kind of antagonist, not the one screaming in your face, but with ambition and ruthlessness written all over his face. Bobby Cannavale leaves an impression as the current husband of Lang’s wife, little Abby is cute as the daughter, and the trio of Michael Peña, Tip Harris and David Dastmalchian bring in a lot of humor to the film. There is a brief scene with one of the Avengers which is quite thrilling, and also don’t forget to wait around till the end-credits are over; it would be worth your time!
Phase III has now begun. It may not be as lavish as Iron Man and Thor movies, but Ant-Man makes its superhero’s tiny size seem impressive. The character of Ant-Man will come next in Captain America: Civil War, and he would bring something new to the existing bunch of heroes we are familiar with. Marvel may not have come with their guns blazing yet, preferring to keep things simpler as a new character is introduced, but come 2016, Captain America: Civil War should raise the temperature once again!