Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Ant-Man (Film Review)

Some have questioned whether Marvel is still capable of introducing new heroes in stand alone films after the first wave. Following Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, it truly seems that most new ones are added as secondary characters in one of the big three films. Even with the likes of Doctor Strange on the horizon, many still had doubts surrounding Ant-Man and whether it could be a truly successful outing. In all honesty, if this is the standard we can expect from new heroes, we're most definitely in safe hands.

The film follows the story of Scott Lang, a cat burglar with a heart of gold. Actively avoiding harming others, his most infamous crime was acting as a modern day Robin Hood in taking down the illicit dealings of a major corporation. Unfortunately, no matter how good the intentions, crime simply doesn't pay and he finds himself unable to retain a job with his criminal record. Forced into undertaking another job, he raids then steals from millionaire genius Hank Pym. However, Pym has been watching him for some time, and requires Lang to perform a very specific heist of his own to get his life back on track...

The fact Ant-Man revolves around a heist is one of two key elements which helps to keep the film fresh. Focusing more upon Lang's history than his better known heroics, this nevertheless puts a new spin on the proceedings so audiences aren't left with the same story we've seen many times. Great as they've always been, after so many films and with DC Comics now in the mix, superheroics are definitely a genre which needs to find ways to branch out and experiment to avoid falling into a creative rut. While the actual heist plan itself is relatively by the numbers, the cast, characters and a fairly odd spin on things prevents it feeling utterly derivative. These are certainly not the elite band of experts such films so often utilise, and instead the group are left working simply with those they can get a hold of. The group is certainly shaky to start with, and while some groundwork is made to building a more professional group, it's made very obvious each has a long way to go.

The actual heist itself is made much more entertaining thanks to the powers of the titular superhero. While people often mock Aquaman for merely being able to control fish (admittedly often ignoring his dozen or so other powers) this is a film which shows just how powerful control over one animal can truly be. Utilising everything from common to full blown Bullet Ants, we see Lang infiltrating the building through his powers and taking the systems down one by one. The obvious fun the writers were having in handling the size changing and animal control translates well onto the screen, as from start to finish they find no end of ways to put these powers to good use. This eventually results in one of the single most entertaining villain battles in the franchise so far, putting everything save for Thor: The Dark World and The Avengers to shame.

The film's cinematography proves to be fantastic throughout, proving to be fast, fluid and kinetic from start to finish. It's one of those few ones which can truly pull off the rapid cuts, and quirky cinematography found in Edgar Wright's other films. While certainly toned down from the likes of Hot Fuzz, you can still easily tell his fingerprints are all over the directing, with abrupt shifts in scenes which only someone with his talent can pull off. Unfortunately, as big a plus as it is, Wright's involvement proves to simultaneously be its single greatest weakness. Having departed the project long before its completion, watching the film honestly does make it seem like a production started by one person and finished by another. Much of the opening act and certain sections of the film fail to truly gel together, and all too often there are certain bits which look off by comparison. As if section have, ultimately, been made trying to replicate Wright's style without fully nailing it.

Sadly the problems don't end with an awkward cinematography, as the characters often prove to be underwhelming. While Michael Douglas pulls off a very different type of Hank Pym than fans will be used to, and Paul Rudd nails Scott Lang as a lovable loser, the same cannot be said of the others. All too often the characters lack much in the way of real introduction or substance, and sadly a great deal of the writing often seems as if it doesn't fully know what to do with them. Hope Van Dyne's character sadly just seems to be going through the motions, and while Evangeline Lilly does her best, all too often her story evolves sporadically rather than naturally. Even the comedic relief doesn't get off too lightly here, as you'll be left wondering who these people are for most of the film's early act, without much screen time to detail given to help flesh them out.

The one who is hit the hardest by the problematic characterisation proves to be the main villain, Yellowjacket played by Corey Stoll. People complained about Malekith's lack of real substance or development in his film, but by comparison he proves to be a deep, complex character. We get little to nothing here beyond jaded, frustrated resentment at his mentor and a sudden sadistically reckless streak. Even then, even when obviously villainous from the start, the twists come out of nowhere as he gradually becomes more insane, trying to excuse his suit's imperfect size shifting technology as the cause. Both the abrupt killing of a potential business partner and sudden abrupt alliance with an old Marvel villain come out of nowhere, and there's just never enough here to really justify his actions.

Is Ant-Man good despite this? Definitely. Despite a rocky start and a few awkward moments, the film proves to be a resounding success and a truly entertaining outing. The worst you can really say is that there was obviously a far better film in here, and that this proves to be extremely rough around the edges at times. However, the good ultimately more than outweighs the bad and you'd be missing out on an incredibly fun production should you choose to skip this one. With the threat of Civil War still hanging over each film, this could be one last chance to have some real fun before the universe is drowned in pointless, unwanted misery.

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