Ants are cool. They scurried about the earth at the same time as the dinosaurs. They are tiny farmers, raising crops and even herding aphids for their milk. And they can lift things fifty times their weight with their jaws! That’s like a man lifting an LGV with his teeth. See? Cool.
And yet the idea of a superhero whose main powers are the ability to shrink to the size of an insect with the aid of a special jumpsuit, and to control ants with telepathy is a pretty hard sell.
Perhaps little wonder, then, that Marvel’s Ant-Man movie took nine years to make it to the big screen. Originally pitched by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish (who retain their story by and screenplay credits), Ant-Man underwent re-writes by leading man Paul Rudd and Adam McKay, while Peyton Reed (director of the woefully underrated Bring It On) took the helm when Wright left the production last year, citing creative differences.
Well-publicised behind the scenes strife is often apparent in the finished project, so it’s something of a relief that Ant-Man doesn’t appear to have suffered any adverse effects. It’s funny, pacy, and knowing with enough in-jokes and references to the wider Marvel universe to keep the most ardent fans geeking out, while also being autonomous enough to be a satisfying stand-alone story for the uninitiated.
Ant-Man’s success can be largely attributed to its ability to laugh at itself and the hackneyed superhero tropes it constantly sets up only to knock down. While it’s undoubtedly a Marvel film, it is also a comic heist movie. The heart comes from the innately lovable Rudd (I have never met a person who doesn’t adore that man, and if I ever do, I’ll walk very swiftly in the opposite direction) as Scott Lang, a brilliant thief with a social conscience who’s served his time and just wants to rebuild his life for the sake of his young daughter, Cassie (a super-cute and very funny Abby Ryder Forston).
Cajoled into breaking the safe of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) by former cellmate, Luis (the hilarious and scene-stealing Michael Pena), Scott finds the suit which can transform him into a tiny powerhouse. But when it’s revealed that Pym has orchestrated the burglary himself to test Scott’s mettle, the reluctant master thief must embrace his natural talents to prevent Pym’s technology falling into the wrong hands, and become, in the words of his ex, “the hero his daughter already thinks he is”.
Meanwhile, Hank is also struggling to mend his fractured relationship with his own daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), and the mistrust which has sprung up between them since her mother’s mysterious death.
There’s some emotional weight in both father-daughter storylines (for some reason seeing Evangeline Lilly cry always makes me blub – she must have one of those faces), but Ant-Man’s real strength lies in its simplicity and humour. Closer in spirit to last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy than any of the Avengers franchises, it’s nevertheless very much rooted on Earth, and it’s very human – almost domestic. There are some stunning visual gags involving people and objects suddenly changing size, as well as some one-liners Tony Stark himself would be proud of. These combined with truly awesome special effects (the ants are wonderful, and look out for a brilliant spot of digital de-ageing) and a sprinkling of romance make Ant-Man a thoroughly enjoyable addition to Marvel’s formidable stable.
Proving that sometimes less really is more, Ant-Man might just be the little superhero movie that could.