Thursday, 13 August 2015
Small soldiers: "Ant-Man"
Ant-Man would appear to be no more and no less than Marvel Studios powering through and getting a job done, which is something the factory line needs to do every now and again: you suspect many of the execs and suits involved wish they could claim the same for the Fantastic Four redo. A number of idiosyncratic writers and directors (notably Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, who retain a story and script credit) came and went during pre-production, leaving journeyman Peyton Reed (Down with Love, Yes Man) to sign off on the finished product, which has one pretty good idea to sustain it: to make a superhero out of Paul Rudd in much the same way the Iron Man movies made a superhero out of Robert Downey Jr.
Rudd's self-deprecating qualities are essential to the role of Scott Lang, an ex-con whose dwindling post-release status - drudging jobs, being denied access to his young daughter, getting rearrested while returning an item he'd previously stolen - leaves him an ideal test subject for the shrinking technology of rogue scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). As Lang is reborn as Ant-Man - a blink-and-you'll-miss-him warrior who moves at the speed of a bullet - Reed's film assumes the not altogether unpleasing shape and scale of a 21st century The Incredible Shrinking Man, with a hero for whom a bathtub suddenly stretches out like a vast floodplain; to enable the now-traditional final-act citystomp, Reed has to let his subject loose on an architect's maquette.
The narrative's a rather blah thing about which party is best equipped to handle Pym's sci-tech breakthrough - obviously baldy villain Corey Stoll wants to deploy it for profit, as opposed to all those Marvel bigshots shooting for enduring art - but much else about Ant-Man proves neat in both the literal and figurative sense: it's a nice economy that the cop busting Lang's balls (Bobby Cannavale) should also be the new beau of his quarry's ex-wife, and Reed's decision to shoot in conventional 1:85: 1 ratio both punches up every micro effect and ensures that the human drama, such as it is, stays comparatively intimate. (There's a certain novelty in the setting: not some shiny, state-of-the-art research lab with obligatory gantry flooring, but the home Pym shares with daughter Hope, played by Evangeline Lilly.)
I saw Ant-Man two nights after I finally caught up with Jurassic World, and there was some relief in seeing a summer tentpole release that had bothered to give its performers even a small handful of notes to play: yes, there's still a degree of thespwaste (Judy Greer as the former Mrs. Lang, Martin Donovan as a scheming Government type), but the interplay between Rudd, Douglas and Lilly is appreciably brisk, and there's an element of variation in the emphasis on fathers and daughters - Hank and Hope, both struggling in their own way to get past the loss of a wife and mother, Scott attempting to do the right thing by his estranged girl - rather than the American cinema's default business of fathers and sons.
For all that, I couldn't discern too much personality: Rudd is essentially playing the same kind of likable everyman they got Chris Pratt to do for Guardians of the Galaxy; he's never allowed to be as funny as he has been in any one-off Judd Apatow movie, or as he is in Netflix's new Wet Hot American Summer spin-off, and it seems perverse that a Paul Rudd vehicle should have to draft in Michael Peña (however funny Peña is here) as comic relief. Still, the decision is of a piece with a movie that gives off a strong sense of corners having been cut, sharp edges smoothed, loose ends reeled in; that a bunch of committed pros rolled up their sleeves and did just about all they could to nudge a long-gestating, much-reworked project onto the starting grid. A lot of manhours went into ensuring Ant-Man provides two hours of broadly functional entertainment; it may be as close as the Marvel Cinematic Universe ever gets to the critic Manny Farber's definition of termite art.
Ant-Man is now playing in cinemas nationwide.