I Fought an Avenger and Didn’t Die:
“Get on the damned ant, Scott!”
For some reason that great line sums up director Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man for me: a normal- sized man called Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) yelling at a tiny-sized guy called Scott Lang to get on the damned ant. And it’s a flying ant, at that.
Compared to the other films in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe to date, there is something quite loveably silly about this latest outing. And yes, I’m aware of how that sounds to non-fans: I’m talking about levels of silliness with regards to a man who can shrink really small compared to a big blonde bloke walking around claiming to be the Norse God of Thunder (OK, an extraterrestrial, if you want to split hairs, but still).
Yet for some reason I can watch those movies and take them straight. I just can.
Guardians of the Universe is of course on a level all of its own and so I don’t count that. But Iron Man? Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Either of those movies is easily as good as any mainstream or art house film that appeared in the same prospective year. Easily as good.
For a long time this project was in the hands of writer-director Edgar Wright; and as a big fan of his trilogy of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End I’d love to have seen what he would have done with it if he had stayed at the helm.
However, Marvel is a corporation that handles product (really well, it has to be said) and it wanted this not as a stand-alone film but as part of the ongoing Avengers Initiative storyline. So, the screenplay ended up being a collaborative effort with Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and even lead actor Paul Rudd throwing in contributions.
The wonder is not that it’s less than smooth but that it works at all.
Ant-Man isn’t one of the more iconic heroes; but all the elements surrounding him are thrown into the mix – Jean van Dyne/the Wasp; Yellowjacket; S.H.I.E.L.D – in an admittedly different form and somehow it all gels.
The actors help: Rudd is perfect as the good guy who finds himself doing supposedly bad things; Corey Stoll is predictably great as the really bad guy (his bald pate reminds you that the best special effect on The Strain is his wig); and for my money Evangeline Lilly is just wonderful as Hope, Pym’s daughter. She is also the most beautiful woman to appear in this entire series and for that shallow reason alone I’m delighted that she’s going to be sticking around. It just helps that she can also act. And of course she also contributed to the script. Hell, didn’t everyone?
Unfortunately the estrangement storyline between Hope and her father is a bit iffy in tone. I guess it’s meant to mirror the relationship between Scott and his daughter, but it’s not all that necessary. Still, it never gets in the way of the fun. And there’s a lot of that, including a terrific attempt to burgle an Avengers HQ which features a surprise cameo that is also this character’s best outing to date.
As it was with casting Robert Redford in The Winter Soldier, the idea of having Michael Douglas in a comic-book film is inspired. These actors, whom we don’t associate with the genre, bring a certain gravitas to their parts as well as looking as if they are enjoying themselves. And the technology that allows us to see a young Douglas without resorting to using a double is nothing less than brilliant.
The classic example of this kind of movie hangs over one scene. I’m talking about The Incredible Shrinking Man from 1958; and it can’t help but come to mind when Hank is warning Scott of the dangers in going sub-atomic – of moving into a region where time and space cease to have any meaning.
This hallucinatory 2001-like journey is breathtaking, especially when the soundtrack goes completely silent as Scott appears almost on the verge of shrinking out of existence altogether.
I also have to compliment the ants. How the hell they manage to make colonies of ants look kind of cute is a mystery – even a full size pet one that should in theory be gross.
It also has one of the most imaginative examples of Product Placement that you’ll see this year. Put it this way, I hope that whoever owns Thomas the Tank Engine paid for a big chunk of this film.
Ant-Man isn’t one of my favourite movies from the MCU series, but it is a really good family pleaser if the crowd who saw it with me is anything to judge by. Really, these days Marvel hardly ever disappoints.
And now, just because I feel like it, here is that beautiful closing monologue from The Incredible Shrinking Man. Delivered, now that I think about it, by another Scott:
I was continuing to shrink, to become… what?
The infinitesimal? What was I? Still a human being?
Or was I the man of the future? If there were other bursts of radiation, other clouds drifting across seas and continents, would other beings follow me into this vast new world? So close – the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly, I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet – like the closing of a gigantic circle.
I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens. The universe, worlds beyond number, God’s silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment, I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of Man’s own limited dimension. I had presumed upon nature. That existence begins and ends is man’s conception, not nature’s. And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away and in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God, there is no zero.
I still exist.
Wow. Think I’ve got something in my eye.