Today I watched Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man (2015)
Back during the Cold War Hank Pym worked with S.H.I.E.L.D. using a miraculous shrinking technology, but when he discovers that they are trying to replicate his tech, he resigns and takes the secret with him. In the modern day Pym is a cantankerous old man who has been voted out of his own company but is still trying to keep his shrinking tech out of the hands of others, especially the megalomaniacal new boss of Pymtech, Darren Cross. Meanwhile Scott Lang is being released from prison where he spent a few years for robbery, he worked for a company that was stealing employee funds so he broke the law to expose them. Now Scott is out and he wants to reunite with his young daughter but her mother rightly wants to see some evidence that Scott can be responsible and not just some crook. This is when he is approached covertly by Pym, who wants him to be the expendable man to wear his shrinking suit and help him steal the technology being developed by Cross.
So before I go on and praise this film for its wonderful blend of fun superhero adventure and heartfelt humour, I got a few bones to pick. Firstly, why is it in all these Marvel movies, that when a scientist wants to keep his super technology out of the wrong hand that the wrong hands happen to be anybody but him? I guess the heads of this franchise never heard the old addage “Give a man a fish, he will eat for a day; teach him to fish and he will eat forever.” I am starting to notice a disturbingly selfish interpretation of libertarian values in the Marvel movies that states that only a specific elite, chosen by destiny, should have access to life improving technology and anything that could even remotely be repurposed to a dangerous use; this, ironically furthers their elite status and puts them even further above us detestable normals. I imagine these themes are going to come out a lot more in the forthcoming Civil War film, which I am beginning to dread. The last little problem with this film is in Scott’s little crew of racial stereotypes, but honestly, they aren’t that bad and get a few really good lines. I just hope that after the abysmal Maximoff twins in the last film that this doesn’t become a running trend.
Now with all that out of the way, I think this is a great film, especially with it’s small, family oriented scale in comparison to the bloated attempt at an epic that was Age of Ultron. There is a real theme at work here outside of that running libertarian trend that I am perceiving; Hank Pym has a daughter, Hope, who is a perfect candidate to wear the ant suit and to do this heist but he wont let her. Meanwhile Scott has a daughter of his own, though she is a little girl. Here there is an examination of the role of a father, typically personified as a patriarch. In Hank’s case his ideal of a protective patriarch is ruining his relationship with his daughter Hope, his protectiveness is really condescending but he doesn’t realize it. Yet this all comes from a misguided attempt at being a good person and the way the film educates him, I think is a really important message. Scott’s adventures in fatherhood are much more straightforward as he is just learning how to support his daughter responsibly, nothing new here but heartwarming nonetheless.
With this strong thematic foundation, the fun and cliche adventure and heist part of the film is really elevated beyond a lot of it’s peers. As a piece of pure superhero escapism and fun, this is a very solid work. The troubles it had during production have become fairly well known, so it is remarkable that the film is as cohesive as it is, firstly in that theme I keep banging on about, but also just as a self contained film. It has a great flow and consistency of tone, which is a very light and fun one, but knows when to get a little more dramatic and exciting to kick thing up a notch. The cast really helps it along by knocking all their roles out of the park. Leading man Paul Rudd, known for his comedy, does a great turn as an action hero and retains his expert timing in executing numerous gags. Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas capture the heart of the themes with their great chemistry as Hope and Hank respectively, but I think my biggest commendations go to Corey Stoll as the villainous Darren Cross. While he continues the trend of Marvel movies not having threatening or challenging villains, he is damn funny and had me cracking up more than anyone else; he is pretty much playing a Steve Jobs type and it totally worked for me on a comedic level.
I think that says a lot about what kind of film this is, a comedic and digestible one that captures the wonderful flights of fancy of classic pulp storytelling while still having a strong, modern theme. It is exactly what this franchise needed and I think it is among the best works in it. The fantastic cast all play off each other in consistently fresh ways as each scene smartly evolves the dynamics between them. It shows that the real key to any good story is good character and the key to good character is to have real issues for them to deal with, in this case it is patriarchal protectionism and father daughter relationships. Of course if you just want to turn your brain off and escape, this film still totally delivers. The Ant-Man powers are absurd and creative and a joy to behold, combine that with the aforementioned smart story and theme and you have a pretty close to perfect superhero romp. 5/5