Ant-Man review

Little wonder…

GamesRadar+ Verdict

It’s Ant-Man, not pants, man. Marvel passes its biggest test in years with flying critters… plus wit, flair, top-notch casting and some good, gratuitous size gags. Your move, Cap.

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Little wonder…

“I saw the punch coming a mile away but I just figured it’d be all pathetic and weak,” sneers Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross, nursing a sore jaw. “Then you figured wrong,” comes his lightning-fisted opponent’s riposte.

Hold that thought, because Marvel’s Phase 2 closer might be the sucker-punch few expected this year. Much-discussed, much-debated, mildly dismissed… Saw it coming, right? Wrong. Caught on the back-foot, Marvel has delivered a clip round the ear to its doubters: a fun, fizzy, confident and almost self-contained MCU semi-reset with, minor niggles aside, some nifty moves to play.

Age Of Ultron’s $1bn-plus returns suggests these doubters are in a minority, but itchy issues with the MCU have seemed in danger of becoming fiery irritants lately. Do we need another Climactic Airborne Slug-Fest? Or another two hours spent seeding plot-points for aggressive franchise expansions? Did Marvel really need to play directors’ musical chairs with Edgar Wright (out) and Peyton Reed (in)? And was Joss Whedon’s usually laser-eyed focus faintly dulled by the city-sized excesses of the otherwise enjoyable Ultron’s – yes – Climactic Airborne Slug-Fest?

Whatever your answers are, Marvel had more to prove with Ant-Man than any other post-Iron Man MCU entry – and the good news is, it knows it. Hence a witty gag about Team Stark’s city-smashing antics; hence too, Ant-Man’s theme of change. Paul Rudd’s ex-con Scott Lang is driven by the need to change in the eyes of his ex-wife (Judy Greer), the stake being access to his young daughter (a winning Abby Ryder Fortson).

As for Marvel, Team Feige upholds the studio’s policy of a new genre per film. After The Winter Soldier’s conspiracy curves, Ant-Man arrives as a comic caper pic, riffing smartly on the set-up of the crook trying to go straight who reverts to crime because the only post-prison job he can get (briefly) is a McJob.

Divorce, estranged fatherhood, societal alienation… If the pitch sounds more like a Bruce Springsteen ballad than a summer sizzler about a guy in ant-duds, Marvel is thinking ahead again. Comic relief is judiciously dished out, aided hugely by ace support in the often show-stealing shape of Michael Peña as Lang’s dizzy partner-in-crime.

Despite Marvel’s wobbly recent record with directors (Wright, Ava DuVernay…), its casting copybook stays clean. Substituting Sex Panther for cat-burglary, Rudd brings average-Joe charm without smarm to the nimble-fingered Lang. As for Michael Douglas, techno-babble about sub-atomic particles and quantum realms drops from his gob as vermouth-voiced wisdom: this is, after all, the man who once convinced a generation to skip lunch.

Resuming Wall Street-ish mentor mode and adding wrinkly warmth, Douglas sells every line as Hank Pym, the inventor with a past who takes Lang under his wing: the mission, should Lang choose to accept it, being to retrieve Pym’s incredible shrinking “particle” from Pym Tech before Darren Cross gains a weapon even deadlier than his frankly horrible gun.

The pace crawls initially, more Snail-Man than off-with-a-bullet Ant-fella. But the time is well spent on setting fresh character connections. Those links are plotted with satisfying symmetry across a pattern of fathers/kids and mentors/protégés, fleshed out further by the fraught history between Hank and daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly, punchy and pitch-perfect in a pivotal role).

True to form, Ant-Man gives that past due attention without becoming bogged down, brazenly utilising quip-power to kick-start the plot after moments of revelation and reflection (and sly franchise-setting-up…).

Marvel-watchers cried “No!” when Yes Man helmer Reed replaced Wright, but Wright’s imprint sticks in gentle touches of almost Aardman-esque drollery – and his replacement doesn’t botch the job. Reed might lack the pop-art pizzazz and unruly ambition Wright might have provided (yes, that’s a lot of “mights”…), but he nails the comedy/drama/action balance and slam-dunks the set-pieces.

A cool-as-ice burglary is just the entrée. Once Lang downsizes, the best bathtub sequence since Paddington uses dizzying, immersive plummet-o-vision to capture his diminishing PoV as he dodges death by DJ, hoover and rat. With faintly rote training montages and use-the-Force-style lessons in ant-control (free your mind and your ants will follow, essentially) out the way, the cool shit arrives with the palate-cleansing emphasis on inventive smarts over size.

A ruck with a guesting Avenger and various bustles of dazzling business with ants play giddy games with proportion. Balanced by the small stuff, the bigger gambits seem refreshed: one sight gag (clue: enlarged vehicle) brought the house down at our screening.

Even the near-Climactic Airborne Slug-Fest benefits from an ingenious, briefcase-based spin, followed by another roof-raising gag at a poolside punch-up and a toy-town stand-off that’s even more fun - and trippy - than the trailer hinted. Factor in some carefully placed teasers about Ant-Man’s screen future, add two sharp stings and you’ve got a refreshing proposition: a heavyweight studio boxing clever. In a super-sized summer, the dinosaurs and Arnie-bots won’t know what hit them.

More info

Theatrical release17 July 2015
DirectorPeyton Reed
Starring"Paul Rudd","Michael Douglas","Evangeline Lilly","Corey Stoll","Bobby Cannavale","Michael Pena","Abby Ryder Fortson"
Available platformsMovie
Freelance writer

Kevin Harley is a freelance journalist with bylines at Total Film, Radio Times, The List, and others, specializing in film and music coverage. He can most commonly be found writing movie reviews and previews at GamesRadar+.