I love superhero movies, but they can get a little dull. There’s a clear formula, and film after film follows the same pattern – the same archetypes play out the same moves again and again, with the only changes being the specific powers and threats to humanity.
Ant-man, while not a total departure from the formula, does play around with it a little. Enough is changed that it feel fresh, enough is kept that it still provides the experience viewers are expecting from a Marvel film. The trailer is below.
Paul Rudd plays a felon trying to get back on his feet, taking menial jobs and trying not to slip back into crime. It doesn’t work, and he agrees to take on another job, breaking into a reportedly empty house and cracking a safe. But the safe only contains a strange suit, and the house isn’t as abandoned as it seemed.
From there, the reluctant hero is thrown into all sorts of trouble, trying to stop unscrupulous weapons dealers and rebuild his relationship with his daughter while surrounded by insects.
Ant-man’s specific powers are that he can change size, shrinking to roughly the size of an ant. Also, he can talk to ants, which is thematically linked but not practically. He’s not the easiest hero to adapt to film, partly because his powers aren’t as obviously useful as, say, Superman’s laser eyes or Wolverine’s healing. There’s also an issue with Ant-man’s mostly widely known plot-arc, which makes him somewhat unsympathetic.
Marvel skips the domestic violence angle entirely, which was probably a wise decision; it’s something that is, justifiably, very difficult to come back from. And by using some decidedly shaky science (even by the standards of superhero movies), the film does manage to make his powers effective.
Ant-man isn’t a straight superhero film – it’s a superhero film crossed with a heist film. I’ve got a lot of time for works which blend genres like that, moving away from the standard plots of their genre to approach things from a different angle. Instead of being focused on the hero’s growing familiarity with their powers, Ant-man mostly gets through all of the angst and experimentation with montages, using the meat of the film to plan and orchestrate a heist. Plans are made, teams are collected, and timings become vitally important. When the climactic battle with the villain takes place, it’s because something has gone wrong, not the logical culmination of the hero’s actions.
Similarly, the romantic subplot, while present, isn’t the same as most superhero films. There’s no high school girlfriends who suddenly sees the protagonist in a new light, no plucky female investigator who ends up needing rescuing. Romance takes place mostly off-screen, and isn’t really a focus.
Instead, the primary relationship in the film is between Ant-man and his daughter. He’s separated from his partner, who now lives with a policeman, and he rarely gets to see his kid. I was impressed by how sensitively this was handled – the film manages to get by without really demonising anyone at all, and the eventual situation at the end of the film isn’t one in which loose ends are cut off and everything is clumsily wrapped off. It’s a complicated situation, and is treated as such.
The dialogue is sharp and well-timed, providing the necessary super-hero quips and banter to keep things flowing along. Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas both occupy their roles well, which slightly surprised me; they aren’t the actors who would necessarily come to mind as suited for the roles, but they were engaging and memorable.
The action is always an important component of such films – the time-stop sequence in X-men: Days of Future Past was by far the highlight of the film. Ant-man isn’t quite that visually arresting, but it does have its moments. Ants feature liberally, as one might expect, and the sequences in which Paul Rudd is trying to survive in a giant and hostile world are great. I’ve always really liked, to be honest, the idea of tiny people in a full-sized world, so I may be a little biased there.
The final climactic battle makes particular use of the size-switching, taking place surrounded by toys. The film plays with expectations a lot – explosions and impacts don’t occur when expected because of shifts in scale, or simply because the objects which seem life-size aren’t.
Ant-man exists in the same universe as the Avengers films. I’m not a fan of constant cross-overs, but Ant-man handles it about as well as can be expected; no more famous characters appear to steal the show, and their absence is both noted and explained. It seems likely that more significant cross-overs will result, with the set up for a sequel angling heavily in that direction. Again, I don’t particularly care for that, but at least it will diversify the Avengers’ powers a little.
It’s not a perfect film – there are holes in the timeline, science and some of the decisions made by major characters, but these are par for the course with this genre. I’m more than willing to suspend disbelief for a film I’m enjoying. Overall, Ant-man is engaging and a little more varied than the majority of such films – it changes enough to keep it fresh while still providing all of the aspects that make superhero films, if not exactly good, very watchable.