(C) Marvel Studios

My relationship with Ant-Man is a turbulent one.

When the film initially came out in late July, I was ready as ever to see it, but due to unforeseen circumstances was unable to get to a screening before I went away for three weeks, meaning I would only be able to see it in a foreign language. Upon my return, I hastily checked the Odeon website to find the next local screening, only to find out that they were no longer showing the film. Luckily, I’ve finally managed to see it, and boy, am I glad I did.

Ant-Man‘s production has been rocky from the start. Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright was the one who pitched the idea to Marvel in 2003, long before the palaver of extended universes and larger continuity, but as time passed on, it began to look bad for Wright’s vision. Test footage shown at SDCC 2012 was very well-received, but in late 2013 Wright left the project, citing ‘creative differences’ with Marvel Studios, at this point in time having just cemented their reputation as one of Hollywood’s biggest studios. Yes Man director Peyton Reed was quickly brought on at the last minute to helm the project, bringing us to 2015, when Ant-Man finally came out. It’s not done as well as most other Marvel films financially, making $362 million worldwide, ranking it as the lowest Phase 2 grosser and the second-lowest grosser of all MCU entries, but that said, Ant-Man is a blast.

Ant-Man follows Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a burglar just released from prison who pines for one thing: to see his daughter. Along comes Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), an elderly inventor who created the Pym Particle, capable of shrinking the space between atoms, thus shrinking an object. His company has been overtaken by Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who plans to use his interpretation of the Pym Particle to create weaponised suits, but he also has a dark agenda: he’s planning to sell his technology to the evil HYDRA. With the help of Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) and best friend Luis (Michael Peña), it’s up to our pint-sized hero to save the world.

Ant-Man‘s plot is surprisingly solid considering its troubles in production. Unlike the other two superhero films released this year – Avengers: Age of Ultron and Fantastic Four – which were both pretty by-the-books affairs, this flies straight off the beat and track. It’s more of a heist movie than a superhero movie, and it really deviates well from the rest of the genre because of it. Dialogue is well-written and witty, with a surprising amount of laughs (including mine) in my screening, particularly originating from Paul Rudd, who transcends genres astoundingly, and Michael Peña, who easily provides some of the film’s funniest moments. The film shines best when the comedians are allowed to flex their muscles, but the more serious stuff is also executed superbly.There’s a number of genuinely touching moments sprinkled in here, particularly when Scott is with his daughter Cassie, and it’s quite a character-driven plot that has plenty of heart. These different tones are balanced carefully and sublimely, and there was never a point where I felt either of these tones felt out-of-place or disjointed. There are some elements of the plot that aren’t quite as strong and are a bit more clichéd – most notably an ending that left me a bit disoriented and underwhelmed –  but for a film that distinguishes itself from most superhero movies so well, I’ll let it slip.

Characterisation and performances are another of Ant-Man‘s strongest points. Paul Rudd is simply perfect as Scott Lang, wonderfully encapsulating the snarkiness and wit of the character whilst also delivering a great performance as an action star. He’s given plenty of great material here from the writers – of which there are quite a few: Edgar Wright, Adam McKay, Joe Cornish and Rudd himself – and he definitely makes the most of it, delivering one of the most original superhero performances in recent memory. The supporting cast is also stellar, with the aforementioned Peña my favourite of the bunch, but there were also some great turns from Michael Douglas, outstanding in a role far-removed from his usual R-rated fiascos, Evangeline Lily, who has the perfect mix of sternness and charm as Hope van Dyne, and also a few guest stars that I by no means saw coming. Unfortunately, I felt that Corey Stoll’s villain Darren Cross was under-utilised for the mostpart. His performance is great despite the fact that he isn’t given a lot to work with, but there were some moments where you could somewhat understand his motivations just through his body language, not necessarily through his dialogue, which hits a stumble with this character. I found his character to be mysterious since we are given only subtle hints as to why he does what he does, communicated mostly through throwaway lines of dialogue, but Stoll’s performance rectifies this somewhat. Aside from a poorly-used villain that has so much potential, the characters in Ant-Man are pretty great.

Of course, since this is a Marvel movie, the main focus here is on the action and technical aspects, and luckily Ant-Man doesn’t disappoint. My favourite parts of the film were when Scott was ant-sized, since it provided a viewpoint rarely explored in action films and was so far removed from what we’re used to. They are just fascinating to watch: to drink in the surroundings, and the fantastic CGI really accentuates these moments. It’s at these moments where I couldn’t help but gawp, smiling uncontrollably, not being able to tear my eyes from the screen, since they’re simply spellbinding. Aside from that, direction is handled pretty well from Peyton Reed, with some lovely establishing shots here and there, and a catchy soundtrack, although the score itself really isn’t something to write home about.

Despite fate seemingly not wanting me to see Ant-Man, I’m so glad I did because it’s quite comfortably my favourite film of 2015 so far. I preferred it to Avengers, even to Kingsman, because it’s simply fantastic: it’s got a great, unique story, fantastic performances despite some script discrepancies, wonderful action, and a unique take on the superhero genre that we’ve never experienced before. In a year where superhero films haven’t been all that great, this really stands out from the crowd, and wraps Marvel’s Phase 2 (which was mostly brilliant) up wonderfully. The best way to describe Ant-Man is simple: it’s fun. A whole lot of action-packed, character-driven, outstanding, spellbinding fun.

★★★★

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