Aware of mental side-effects and convinced, perhaps quite rightly, that his technology might be applied against his wishes by SHIELD, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) refuses to give them the technology behind his 'Pym particiles' which allow matter to be shrunk in size. Instead he hides away the secrets of his success and sets up his own company. Unfortunately his protoge, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), proves to be no more relaible and edges Pym out of his own company, trying despertaley to fill in the gaps in innovations and make a working military battle-suit from which he can personally earn billions.
The years pass and Cross edges closer to eventual success, apparently with the help of Hope Pym (Evangeline Lilly), who still blames her father for the mysterious death of her mother years before. But Hope is secretly working against Cross and the Pyms realise that there time to stop Cross' machinations is limited. Hank is desperate to secure someone with the skills to break into a high-security building to destroy the suit and its tech, but someone more expendable than his own daughter whom he doesn't want to risk losing as well.
Enter Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a petty-thief desperate to reform and get better access to his young daughter, Cassie. After testing his mettle, can Hank and Hope offer him a way to set things right for everyone, or are they merely handing him a dated suit that is little more than a bargain-basement one-way ticket to the lesser league of superheroes or even certain-death?
While the second Avengers film (Age of Ultron) felt somewhat bloated and driven by financial rather than creative concerns - that old Hollywood problem of throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the screen and hoping the best parts stick unfortunately proving more true than ever - Ant-Man feels far better judged in the pacing department. Rather than the all-encompassing beserker battlefield cries of Cap and Co. this is a more streamlined affair, a jaunty heist movie at heart that ultimately ends up being a Ocean's 11 meets Honey, I Shrunk the Kids outing.
The closest Marvel film in tone is probably Iron Man and in similar respects, this is another effort from the studio that defies strategic 'pock the best known' expectations and launches a once unfamiliar hero (to audiences outside the comics industry) into the mainstream. With the weight of existing continuity baggage lifted off its shoudlers, the production is free to pick and choose its place in the existing landscape. There was some initial consternation when Paul Rudd got the part of Scott Lang, but fans needn't have worried. The likes of Michael Keaton proved he could overcome misconceptions and star in Batman, so for dramedy-veteran Rudd this romp is a proveribale walk in the park, playing to his strengths. The actor handles the proceedings with all the needed charm, letting us feeling supportive of Scott's genuine wish to turn his life around (he's been in prison but for illegal rather than immoral reasons) while rolling our eyes when he still manages to screw things up and slide back into old habits.
The evolution of the project was infamously bumpy, with the likes of writer/directors Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish both exiting stage-left early in the process with apparent 'creative differences' over the script and the tone of the film. Given that the final cut is funny enough, deftly-paced and a solid all-ages romp (but one that fails to take as many chances as it might have done under Wright...) one wonders how much of the result is one due to those initial blue-prints and whether this has been tweaked or largely remastered. Certainly the result is more in line with the tried-and-tested Marvel formula, built to reinforce the brand rather than stretch it. There are some nicely-pitched 'easter-eggs' for fans to find and touchstones from the existing Marvel cinematic universe... such as Halyley Atwell (rapidly becoming the new Samuel L. Jackson when it comes to being the connective tissue), an apperance by the Falcon and the requisite glimpse of Stan Lee.
In an era of cinematic darkness and angst (see ANY of DC/Warners' upcoming output), Marvel's Ant-Man is notably an all-ages release. A few very minor swear-words and the traditional slug-fests aside, there's nothing here that wouldn't cater well for a family-outing to the local multiplex. The comics have sometimes labelled the character as 'The Astonishing Ant-Man'. Well, no, decent FX aside, this isn't a tale to astonish, but in the end, there's more than enough to entertain.
Yes, by now you'll know to stick around through the credits and here we're given two epilogues, both pointing to future developments in Marvel projects coming off the back of Ant-Man. Without spoilers, the first one is fun, but the second - though brief - is perhaps more important, pointing to a development that may immediately pivot into (and be explained further within) Captain America: Civil War next year.
Ant-Man, released by Marvel/Disney, is out now.
Thanks to Vue @ The Light, Leeds...