Action, Ant-Man, Anthony Mackie, Comedy, Corey Stoll, Drama, Evangeline Lilly, Hank Pym, Marvel, Marvel Cinematic Universe, Michael Douglas, Michael Peña, Paul Rudd, Peyton Reed, Review, S.H.I.E.L.D., The Falcon, Yellowjacket
And so we say farewell to Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a place audiences have become incredibly familiar with in the last seven years. It’s been a wildly successful run so far: including Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Marvel has made eleven movies and reaped over eight and a half billion dollars worldwide. Their movies make up the most successful franchise ever… and with Ant-Man and a further ten movies making up Phase Three due between now and July 2019, it’s clear that title isn’t going to be relinquished anytime soon.
But while Ant-Man is pleasantly entertaining, and features possibly the best supporting turn in any Marvel movie – stand up, Michael Peña! – it’s also the most formulaic and predictable, from its opening scene set in 1989 and featuring an amazingly youthful Michael Douglas, to its introduction of Scott Lang (a criminal with a moral backbone), to the nefarious activities of villain Darren Cross and his attempts to replicate the work of Dr Henry Pym, to Scott’s friends/sidekicks, to the revelation that Pym is estranged from his daughter Hope (not really!), to Scott’s easy acceptance of Pym’s recruitment of him, to his quickly established command of the Ant-Man suit, to the foiled capers, and the eventual success of Cross in emulating Pym’s work. It’s a Marvel movie, true enough: safe, non-controversial, carrying a faint whiff of po-faced seriousness in amongst all the goofy humour, and sticking close to the established Marvel movie template, all the way down to the post-credits teaser for Captain America: Civil War (2016).
Ant-Man isn’t a bad film. In parts, it’s quite spirited and enjoyable, and there are clear indications that Edgar Wright knew what he was doing before Peyton Reed inherited the director’s chair (the toy locomotive derailing silently could only have come from the mind of the co-creator of the Cornetto Trilogy). The special effects are superb, with the 3D conversion (especially in the IMAX format) proving particularly immersive and impressive. But the story is bland, and so are the characters. When you have a cast that includes the likes of Douglas, Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Anthony Mackie and Peña, surely it would be a good idea to have them do something more adventurous and original than try to steal a suit (no matter what it can do). Even the humour, usually something that Marvel gets right, feels tired and derivative of other Marvel movies.
And it’s this derivation, this close sticking to the perceived required template that is leading Marvel astray, leaving only Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) as their most fully realised and effective movie so far. With each stand-alone movie having to fit into the larger Marvel universe (an issue Guardians didn’t have to worry about), it’s clear that these entries lack the attention to their own stories that would allow them to be more distinctive. As it is, the similarities keep on coming: Iron Man fights another robot or batch of robots, Thor fights a race intent on destroying either Asgard or just about everything, Captain America acts as a moral compass while performing acrobatics with his shield, and both Avengers movies see the group fighting off overwhelming hordes of attackers (while also laying waste to whichever city they happen to be in). And the Hulk is sidelined because they can’t work out what to do with him.
Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and there’s obviously more than a few of them – will suggest that the movies are delivering almost exactly what they want, with all their in-jokes and easter eggs and cameos, and those post-credit scenes that keep people in their seats right until the very end of the movie, but the formula is already showing signs of becoming tired. Ant-Man was the project that prompted Marvel and producer Kevin Feige to go ahead with the whole Cinematic Universe idea; how sad then to see that the movie is less than the sum of its parts, and doing just enough to raise a smile or a jaded bout of wonder.
But maybe there is hope. In amongst the two Avengers movies (three if you count Civil War) and the Guardians and Thor sequels, there are some hopefully different movies coming, with new characters – Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Captain Marvel – and maybe, just maybe the promise of a new direction for the whole Universe. It would be great to see these characters carry Marvel forward into Phase Four and in doing so, offer audiences new experiences rather than the fatigue-ridden outings we’ve started to see in the last couple of years. Let’s hope so, anyway.
Rating: 6/10 – saddled with the kind of storyline and plot that would be more at home on the small screen, Ant-Man never lives up to its “Heroes don’t get any bigger” tagline; in many ways a kind of contractual obligation, it skimps on depth to provide the most lightweight and undemanding Marvel movie yet.