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Little big Ant-Man a relative marvel in comic blockbuster season

Ant-Man is a blockbuster that breaks recent moulds, writes Anders Furze.

Review by Anders Furze
 
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By now the Marvel movies have become so hegemonic and boring that any film in their seemingly never-ending universe that even gestures towards detouring from the corporate script feels as revolutionary as cinema’s transition from silence to sound.

Enter Ant-Man, a refreshing attempt to at least vaguely transcend the shackles of corporate synergy. The result is a flawed but entertaining blockbuster that crucially, hallelujah, almost completely begins, moves through some fun set pieces and then ends. In the 2015 blockbuster season, it’s hard to get much better than that.

The story is relatively simple for this kind of movie, which means it can be outlined in two paragraphs instead of three. Paul Rudd (more on whom in a moment), plays Scott Lang, a cat burglar who is released from prison, fired from his new job when his employer finds out who he is and decides to go on one last score so that he can pay child support for his daughter.

The house he breaks into belongs to Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, who looks amazingly young in the film’s 1989-set prologue and, admirably, refuses to sleepwalk his way through the film). Dr Pym is trying to stop the megalomaniacal Darren Cross (House of Card’s Corey Stoll) from creating an army of ant-sized human soldiers. Long story short: Pym recruits Lang to the cause by turning him into Ant-Man, whose suit simultaneously shrinks Lang to ant size while giving him superhuman strength.

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The film is well aware that all of this sounds a bit ridiculous, which is why Paul Rudd is so central to its success. Rudd possesses a fascinating screen presence: he carries the self-awareness of Marvel superstar Robert Downey Jr., but none of the latter’s air of borderline disdain towards the whole thing. Rudd underlines his self-awareness with warmth and affability.

The film itself adopts this sensibility, for better and worse. Needlessly anxious about Rudd’s ability to collapse this ironic/humanistic binary, the screenplay contains saccharine scenes like where he gazes wistfully at a countdown of how many days until he can see his daughter again. It’s all a bit too much.

Where this attitude shines though is in the film’s quite inventive action sequences. In what is probably the highlight of the movie, Ant-Man fights his nemesis on a moving Thomas the Tank Engine toy set. The film alternates from the perspective of Ant-Man: lasers, explosions and a giant train, to the perspective of the child in the room, who just sees a small toy train wobbling off its tracks. With one cut, the film instantly lowers its own dramatic stakes. Or rather, it focuses them.

Indeed, Marvel desperately needs to focus things. Watching anonymous skyscrapers topple in The Avengers, and entire cities raised from the ground in its sequel, the action becomes overwhelming, deadening. It’s refreshingly entertaining to watch characters fighting each other on toy sets or, in another memorable scene, inside a bag.

All of which is not to say that Ant-Man is entirely revolutionary. It’s still a Marvel movie, which means we have to endure scenes that serve no purpose beyond connecting this movie to next year’s round of Marvel blockbusters.

Jettisoned, too, is Marvel’s fondness for rushing movies from one glossy interchangeable location to another. Ant-Man is set entirely in San Francisco, which has been the setting for a curiously large number of blockbusters this year, from Inside Out to Terminator: Genisys to San Andreas.

Interestingly for a broad-audience blockbuster like this, Ant-Man contains some quite gross scenes. In one, the evil Cross zaps somebody into a pile of goo that he subsequently flushes down the toilet. These scenes are suggestive enough within the confines of this kind of movie, though I did long to see what body-horror expert David Cronenberg would do with this kind of material.

All of which is not to say that Ant-Man is entirely revolutionary. It’s still a Marvel movie, which means we have to endure scenes that serve no purpose beyond connecting this movie to next year’s round of Marvel blockbusters.

But this is a movie about a guy who shrinks himself to work in tandem with ants: there’s only so much synergising you can do. This is an entertaining, warm-spirited and ultimately coherent movie. Which is not to damn with faint praise. It’s not Ant-Man’s fault that competency alone makes it one of the best blockbusters of the year.

► 3 1/2 stars

► Ant-Man is currently screening nationally.

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THE CITIZEN is a publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism. It has several aims. Foremost, it is a teaching tool that showcases the work of the students in the University of Melbourne’s Master of Journalism and Master of International Journalism programs, giving them real-world experience in working for publication and to deadline. Find out more →

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