Monday, 20 July 2015
Little Bug Man
Directed by Peyton Reed
UK cinema release print.
Warning: The spoilers in this review are mostly small.
Okay, so I’ll freely admit to not knowing much about the Ant-Man character... but I do know that once again this ‘adaptation’ of a character I used to read, starting off with his 1962 appearance in Tales To Astonish Issue 27, has been seriously meddled with for the movie version. I also remember him when he was Henry Pym, a solid part of The Avengers as various characters such as Ant-Man, Yellow Jacket and Giant Man (and I think a couple more I can’t quite remember) alongside his wife Janet Pym, who was also a superhero called The Wasp. I remember her quite clearly, in fact, getting together with some of the other ladies in the Marvel Universe and tackling the issue of male sexism in a story from The Avengers Issue 83 called The Revolution’s Fine, which I read as a colour reprint in a British annual.
Now this movie has had some fairly high profile trouble in that the wonderful comedy writer and director Edgar Wright was attached to this for a while, before having his script rewritten and leaving the production due to creative differences with Disney, who bought out what I call the ‘Marvel’s Own’ brand a couple of years ago... already successful in their incredibly good run of Phase One and Phase Two movies. This film, in fact, finishes Phase Two before we go into the next movie, Captain America: Civil Wars which will start off Phase Three. People who want a quick lead in to that film will need to stay for the second of two post-credits sequences in Ant-Man. I believe Joss Whedon, who successfully wrote and directed the two massively successful Avengers movies for Marvel, was quite overt in his praise of Wright’s original script and, from what I can gather, thinks Marvel/Disney made a mistake letting it go.
While I was saddened to hear of Wright’s departure from the project, I loved the idea of the film being directed by Peyton Reed, as he had directed one of my favourite romantic comedies, a deliberate throwback to the old Doris Day/Rock Hudson films called Down With Love. However, with a rewritten script and the messing around with the old 1960s and 1970s version of the Ant-Man character, the film is not without it’s problems... but it’s also not a terrible mess and it certainly doesn’t let the side down in terms of the new ‘Marvel’s own’ movies... it’s a damn sight better than Guardians Of The Galaxy (reviewed here), The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man 2 (reviewed here), for example.
In the movie, the Hank Pym character, played by acting legend Michael Douglas (son of Kirk) takes more of a mentor role to Scott Lang... a character from comic books from much later, when I wasn’t reading them, played by Paul Rudd. Pym’s wife Janet is missing presumed dead in a realm of the microverse which fans of Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man are left to ponder at the end of that story, which is also actually shown in a nice scene towards the end of this one. Instead, we have someone called Hope Van Dyne, played by Evangeline Lilly, actually Hank Pym’s daughter but who really looks the absolute dead spit of Janet Pym as she was portrayed in the 1960s/70s comics I used to read. So much so, in fact, that when I saw the trailers for the movie, I just assumed she was playing The Wasp... which is something she might well be doing, in future Marvel movies, it’s hinted at here. My one hope is that, eventually, Marvel will take it into their heads to explore the Microverse a little closer and do an adaptation of their 1980s comics The Micronauts... I would love to see Commander Arcturus Rand, Biotron, Baron Karza, Bug and all the others brought to the big screen. But I digress...
This film is mostly okay although, its obvious I have some problems with it. I’ll get to those soon enough but there’s good stuff too. I actually started to get interested in the way that some of the earlier scenes of Scott Lang were shot from slightly above the level of his height... giving him a somewhat diminished feel in certain shots. So, for example, we’d watch him from the camera viewpoint of a hill above a level that he is walking towards. Alas, this tactic doesn’t stay with the film for long but it would have been nice if they’d have kept that up throughout the whole movie, I think.
There’s a couple of wonderful montage sequences where one of Lang’s friends is telling him a long “he said, she said and then this guy said” structured kind of story involving many characters and as the shots progress, including the usual cameo by Stan Lee in one of them, the lines the various characters are saying are replaced and lip synched to the character telling the story. It’s quite inventive and exactly the kind of thing I would expect from this director following his inventive visual approach to Down With Love. I don’t know how well those scenes will play in foreign dub versions but in the English versions, they certainly give the two sequences a little push.
The actors are all pretty fabulous, including Michael Douglas who does an absolutely brilliant job as Pym, the guy with the brains behind “the suit” and former Ant-Man himself, which is nicely acknowledged in the movie. And he looks so young in this too... how does he do that? And they’ve got the great acting genius Martin Donovan in here in a minor bad guy role. Sadly wasted in terms of screen time but he makes a truly unsympathetic villain and, if you like him in this, you should definitely check out the work he’s done in various Hal Hartley movies over the years. He’s a legend.
There’s also a nice thematic edge in this in that everyone’s character seems to grow a little as they learn more from each other. This is a really neat touch and it even applies, to some extent, to the main villain of the piece, Corey Stoll as Yellow Jacket... hey wait? Wasn’t Yellow Jacket just another heroic incarnation of Henry Pym... oh, okay. Whatever, Marvel. You destroy your legacy as much as you like, it still all kind of works in the movie to some extent so I’m not too much bothered by it at this stage of the game, after seeing so much that was good in various Marvel comics thrown away in their dumbed down screen versions.
What I was bothered about was the science. Yeah, it’s okay to have a completely incredible science breakthrough that lets you put a man in a suit and shrink and enlarge him without doing harm to him because of the way the suit houses you. However, it’s then necessary to have a certain amount of logic to your ‘crazy science’ and not have it contradict itself, otherwise it loses the ‘fantasy credibility’ you have fought so hard to have the audience suspend its disbelief for. So, if you then introduce discs which are little bombs which can safely shrink and enlarge people and objects without causing any harm... then why the heck did you need the suit to begin with? This is kinda lame, it has to be said. However, if you don’t think about it while you’re watching it, it kinda almost makes sense at the time and it’s good to see the various visual gags that this rogue shrink/enlarge effect brings to the movie... despite totally losing any respect for the writing in the process.
Also, another little real world feature as a tip to the people who put these movies together. We’re not living in the 1940s anymore. If you shoot someone in the arm, for instance, there’s going to at least be a modicom of blood. I know, blood means more likelihood of a higher certification but, the fact that you are completely ignoring the consequences of violence to get something past the censors is... well, it’s not good for the young and impressionable audience is it? They need to understand that violence is ugly and bad. Now, you can get away with this kind of stuff, maybe, if we are talking about a character in the back of a shot just falling down and playing dead. However, when you go in for lengthy close up shots and there’s no blood... not even a hole in the material of the clothes the bullet was supposed to have torn through... your realism just took a serious nose dive and is hurting the film. Seriously... if you can’t show it, then alllude to it in a creative way... please don’t fudge it like this.
I think people’s biggest problem with the movie will be that there is so much time dedicated to the story arc and characters to set the Ant-Man up as a bona fide Marvel superhero, that the film feels a bit ‘ant’iclimactic at the end. There’s a bit of a battle scene which you see a fair amount of in the trailers and when that’s played out in the movie you are left thinking you’ve seen a small battle which is going to lead on to the real spectacular set piece of the movie... it takes a little while to process/realise that you actually just saw the film’s big, final battle and that the main villain is already out of the picture. That being said, though, it’s more than made up for by smaller set pieces in the movie including a guest appearance by a character who I won’t reveal here... but lets just say that there’s a sequence in here which allows composer Christophe Beck to bring in Alan Sivestri’s Avengers theme at one point. There are actually a fair number of cameos or comic book fan pleasing moments throughout the film, such as a nice little line about Tales To Astonish... but I won’t start listing them here.
Ultimately, Ant-Man is a fun movie and it’s not going to disappoint too many fans of the Marvel franchise, I suspect. Inventive but a little uneven in places in terms of its pacing, is the way I perceived it. Possibly, like Avengers: Age Of Ultron (reviewed here) it’s a film which will grow on me a lot more with subsequent viewings (I ended up seeing the aforementioned movie four times and got more out of it on later re-watches... so maybe Ant-Man will get better the more familiar I get with it). Definitely something which needs to be seen before the new Captain America movie is released, that’s for sure, and something which is a relatively good time at the cinema. It may be a film about a small hero but I’m pretty sure the box office on it won’t be that minimal. Ant-Man is definitely a character I think we’ll be seeing more off as the on-screen Marvel universe continues to expand and interpenetrate with itself. This is possibly a small film leading to bigger things.