Words By: Jack Dawson
It’s been a long road for Marvel since their breakout hit Iron Man, which began the long and rambling Marvel Cinematic Universe that still dominates our big screens. Now with Ant-Man, the final film in their second phase of movies (The first phase having begun with Iron Man and ended with The Avengers), now seems a good time to take stock, and tell a story on a smaller scale.
I will not apologize for that pun, it’s just something you and I are going to have to live with.
After featuring Billionaire playboys, Royal heirs to Divine thrones and cherished American Icons, Marvel decided to make a film starring an Ex-Con. Scott Lang is a burglar (which he insists is different from a robber) who’s just got out of jail and is struggling to cope with the mountain of financial debts and obligations facing your average Lower-Middle-Class American. Hank Pym is a reclusive genius inventor haunted by his past and by the threat of his own inventions being used for destruction. Both men come together to try and find some measure of redemption while engaging in some morally shady business which all centres around the ability to move cubes of sugar around the table.
This might actually be one of my favourite Marvel movies, mostly because the stakes are personal and the focus is tight. We spend a good two thirds of the movie figuring out who the characters are and what Ant-Man is capable of before we see everything come together in the climax. This movie also does its best to convince us that shrinking down to the size of an Ant can be as viscerally enthralling as any other superhero, if only for the capability for espionage.
The set pieces are imaginative and sprawling, the actors are well cast and given good material to work with, and it actually provides one of the better Villains of the MCU. This is especially impressive given that he’s a Corporate Executive with a power fantasy and pretentious mannerisms, which seems to be the character traits of most villains in Hollywood films. But both the performance and the rather inventive cruelties attributed to him make Darren Cross a truly compelling antagonist who poses a truly credible threat.
Of course I’ve never seen a movie without flaw, and there are a few glaring ones on display here.
I have some issues with the framing of Scott’s criminal past, especially since other characters treat his inevitable relapse into crime as a personal failing rather than an inevitable result of an economic system that denies Ex-Cons anything resembling fulfilling employment.
Also, despite the fact that Hope Pym constantly lampshades the fact that she deserves to be in the Ant-Man suit more than Scott, that still doesn’t change the fact that Ant-Man once again exhibits the tired storyline of a more deserving female character being shunted out of the spotlight for the benefit of the ‘relatable’ male lead (see The Matrix, Kung Fu Panda and Guardians of the Galaxy for other examples, along with most other Hollywood films dealing with ‘Chosen Ones’). It’s particularly insulting for Ant-Man to pull this when Marvel’s first female-led Superhero movie is still half a decade away.
Aside from that there are the usual Marvel issues of squeezing lots of details into small spaces, somewhat problematic responses to social justice which are all the more disappointing for how close they come to the mark, and the increasingly homogenised aesthetic and moral code established by the MCU. On a personal note, I feel deeply betrayed that this movie does not resemble Mad Max: Fury Road as much as I think it should. I did warn you all that watching that movie would have an adverse effect on all subsequent films I saw this year.
Ultimately, I think this is a far more appropriate ending to the Second phase of the MCU than the bloated Avengers: Age of Ultron would have been. It’s eerily similar to the first Iron Man movie, from the focus on the dangers of power in the wrong hands to the villain wielding a newer and shinier version of the Hero’s suit. In fact it’s a lot better than Iron Man since it doesn’t have so many wasted scenes or flat characters, it’s just a tight execution of a relatively straightforward movie. I like that in a film, the kind of restraint that knows just how much to let loose and what to keep under control.
This is a fun movie, a moving send off to the MCU as we know it, and definitely worth your time. Just… try not to think about insects after this movie. After seeing Ants crawl from every conceivable crack to move across a room in a veritable carpet of snapping pincers and scuttling feet in order to plant explosives, you might get a touch nervous at the sight of one of the more deadly varieties living here in Australia.