Back in 1989, the scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) decided after a major disagreement at his place of work to pack it in and set out on his own. The problem? His associates wished to use the shrinking technology he had developed to become the superhero Ant-Man for other purposes, and he refused, reasoning it was too dangerous to be allowed into other hands which may have had more sinister motives. That suit he designed not only caused the wearer to shrink, but it amplified their strength much as an ant is far stronger than its tiny frame would indicate, but now, in the present, Pym’s company has been taken over by his protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) who wants to devise new military technology with potentially disastrous consequences…
But Michael Douglas wasn’t really playing Ant-Man in the film, for the theme of mentorship extended beyond the turncoat Cross and towards another character in the Marvel Comics universe, sensitive cat burglar Scott Lang. His fans would tell you it was about time that Paul Rudd played a superhero, and with this Edgar Wright-devised action flick his time had come, except it had not come for Wright: in a move that was heartwrenching to cult movie fans everywhere, his chance at directing a genuine blockbuster fell apart and he and Disney, who now owned Marvel, parted ways thanks to the House of Mouse’s demands on keeping it a franchise entry with the rest of the films in this series whereas Wright had envisaged his own separate effort all the better to have his fun with the premise, more heist movie than action flick.
According to those who read the original script, much of Wright and Joe Cornish’s input survived, though not quite enough for the fans' liking as something quirky and eccentric had its rough edges smoothed to become a slicker, less distinctive proposition. That said, the replacement Peyton Reed was not exactly a rank amateur, and though he could play the company man enough of the oddity was present to render something a little different from the big musclebound men hitting each other effects-filled genre that superhero fiction had become on the big screen. Rudd certainly fitted that capacity as an everyman who nevertheless contained a distinct charisma that was not entirely mainstream, as witnessed in his comedy work, and there appeared to be a conscious effort to keep the humour.
Although that did come across more as if Disney were unsure how anyone in the audience would take to a superhero who became teensy-weensy rather than big and strong, and the fact that Ant-Man was small and strong didn’t quite translate to the traditions of superpowers as umpteen Marvel movies had set out. Why not go the whole hog and make a Plastic Man or Hong Kong Phooey movie, the naysayers might have lamented, and as if to appease them there was a subplot for both Pym and Lang that saw them struggle to maintain a relationship with their daughters, as if transferring the emotions of taking someone under your wing were trickier than they seemed. They certainly had been with Cross, who we see misusing his own shrink ray to eliminate a competitor from the boardroom, telegraphing this was yet another Marvel entry that would climax in a big, macho brawl.
Yet while this deeper level of family relationships was sincere, the film only really came alive when Ant-Man tried out his abilities, conveying the essentially bizarre concept of a hero who not only becomes ant-sized but can also use an adapted psychic enhancement to control the actual insects themselves. These setpieces were where the whole affair sprung to life, with some very attractive special effects that indulged us in the strangeness and novelty of it all, less The Incredible Shrinking Man and more Paul’s Adventure on the Floor from the Beatles’ movie Help! Only with far more cash thrown at it, obviously. Elsewhere, the more overbearing humour of Michael Peña as Scott’s criminal sidekick proved an schticky irritant and Evangeline Lilly as Pym’s daughter Hope was more prickly than endearing, but Rudd managed to save the day with an engaging, I can hardly believe this myself take on the superhero persona - it was he and Adam McKay credited with the script rewrite. So Ant-Man was a bumpy ride, much like that on the back of a flying insect, but one worth taking simply to see the sights. You couldn’t help but notice how he would be homogenised to a generic Marvel protagonist if there wasn’t more care shown to his individuality, however. Music by Christophe Beck.