For the second year running, the best Marvel Studios film isn't the one you were expecting. Ant-Man? It's a hoot.
For a moment there, it looked like Ant-Man was going to be Marvel’s first proper bomb. A third-tier superhero, a publically turbulent development process, and a teaser that spent more time apologising for its name than anything else. You could be forgiven for keeping your expectations cautious, even after a second, more confident trailer.
But in the end, we needn’t have worried. It’s Marvel Studios. Even on a bad day, it still shows you a good time. And Ant-Man is Marvel Studios having one of its pretty good days.
It’s hard not to look at Ant-Man and see all the things that the first Iron Man film did right. It has a similarly tight script and conservative running time, coupled with clear ideas about where its characters are going and how they get there. The plot – keeping dangerous technology away from an evil businessman – is certainly familiar too, but the much-touted heist structure prevents it from feeling too much so. It’s a more focussed movie than Marvel Studios has made in some time, and all the more enjoyable for it.
In terms of Marvel cinematic universe content, Ant-Man certainly plays very much like a Phase One movie. Aside from one major sequence, the MCU connective tissue is kept relatively light and what is there adorns the story rather than weighs it down. Powering the narrative you’ll find a fairly standard Marvel origin arc – but after the multi-character continuity pile-ons that have typified MCU Phase 2, it’s actually a refreshing change of pace to watch a film that’s largely self-contained and has something for all of its characters to do.
The core cast – Evangeline Lily’s Hope Van Dyne, Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang and Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym – have the necessary chemistry to turn their two-note personalities into functioning characters. As Darren Cross, Corey Stoll exudes the right amount of charisma and menace, and while he’s never quite believable as a scientist, he’s believable as a villain. But all that said, it’s Michael Pena as Luis who walks away with this movie. Beyond the first few scenes, almost everything he says gets a laugh.
While Ant-Man returns to a lot of Marvel’s more familiar conventions, it’s also loaded with new ideas, both visual and narrative. The shrinking effects are great fun, and the extended depth of field means – and we can hardly believe we’re saying this – that the 3D effects actually do add something.
Peyton Reed also brings along some inventive directorial tricks that we guarantee you haven’t see in a Marvel movie before. For a film that seemed set to be defined by how good it could’ve been if it only had its original director, Reed takes a confident hand in making sure no-one comes out of the film with the impression that he was just a jobbing stand-in. It’s got more individual style than most Marvel movies. Admittedly, it might’ve looked even better with an auteur like Wright at the helm – but what matters is that you really can’t say for certain.
The thing Ant-Man really nails is its third act. A simple structure means the entire film is allowed to go uphill. There’s no artificial trough to sit through where it looks like everything’s hopeless but obviously isn’t. The climactic final sequence then delivers the movie’s most thrilling and hilarious moments, and crucially doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s probably as good an ending as we’ve ever seen Marvel Studios do.
As good as Ant-Man is, there are ways in which it does misstep a little. Its contrition over Marvel’s lack of female heroes would be easier to swallow if it had remembered to include more than one fully-formed female character itself. The lean script means it’s sometimes a little too easy to see guns being placed on the mantelpiece. Scott himself is a likeable rogue pitched in the direction of Guardians Of The Galaxy‘s Star Lord, but there are some crucial gaps in his personality that are filled in with generic Paul Rudd for him to be truly as satisfying as his Marvel cinematic univerese co-leads.
Despite all that, it holds together. You can find some cracks in its exterior, but there are none of the yawning structural chasms Marvel has become practised in disguising. It leaves you wanting more – and not, like some MCU films, more of whatever comes next. You want more Ant-Man. Based on the post-credits scenes (of which there are two) it’s clear that Marvel isn’t going to let you down. By the end of this film, it feels silly to have ever thought it would.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.