Q: How many superheroes does it take to ruin a film franchise?
A: I’m not sure, but Marvel seems hell-bent on finding out.
Ant-Man is the latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a contiguous, canonical world which is home to movies such as The Avengers, Thor, Iron Man and now Ant-Man. The franchise reached a peak with the release of the first Avengers film, which brought together about eight years’ worth of masterful cinematic planning.
Now, however, the world seems crowded with superheroes. Paul Rudd is the latest to join the fray as an ex-con turned good. Armed with a down-home charm and unshakeable righteousness, Rudd plays Scott Lang, a technocrat Robin Hood who burgled tens of millions of dollars from his corporate employer to return to defrauded customers.
We join him as he leaves prison and attempts to go legit to regain visitation rights to his young daughter – getting mundane jobs while living on the couch of his former partner-in-crime Luis (Michael Peña). But the lure of a big score at the home of Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) proves too tempting for Scott, and he leaves armed with Pym’s shrinking suit.
Of course, it was all a plot, and Pym enlists Scott and the suit to help save the world from his sociopathic protégé, who has developed a technology that is too powerful.
Ant-Man will offer no surprises for even the most casual consumer of superhero lore. Furthermore, one of the greatest risks for Marvel is relying too heavily on the audience’s prior knowledge of its characters. This film is incredibly light on back-story, having only enough time to hurl the bare bones of an incredibly complex plot at the audience before embarking on its do-or-die race against the clock.
The movie has a lot of moving parts, which do click in a juddering rickety fashion, but it fails to achieve the kind of heart-twanging, pulse-racing slickness for which Marvel is known. Indeed, at the hands of director Peyton Reed and team of writers including Edgar Wright, Ant-Man goes for the same oddball charm as Guardians of the Galaxy but suffers for the comparison. Where Guardians was genuinely off-beat, surprising and subversive, Ant-Man returns to a hacky rendering of the genre filled with half-cooked attempts at wacky.
The film isn’t bad, it’s just not that good, and I left already forgetting what had transpired. The visual effects are excellent – sequences with tiny-Scott fighting through now-alien everyday scenes are impressive, and there are a few excellent visual gags that younger viewers will probably enjoy.
Evangeline Lilly is criminally under-utilised as Dr Pym’s genius daughter Hope van Dyne, and a hinted sequel focused on her character would probably fare far better than Ant-Man. The rest of the cast fill their archetypal roles with aplomb, none really standing out beyond their genre-ordained plot functions.
The point of superheroes is that they’re special. They are lonely, chosen people in an uncaring world, struggling for truth and justice. This isolation is at the heart of the genre, and has been executed brilliantly from Tobey Maguire-era Spiderman through to Pixar’s The Incredibles. The Marvel universe now feels like it has more heroes than mortals. How can a superhero be special in such a crowded market?
Ant-Man certainly struggles.
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