Dir: Peyton Reed
Marvel Studios, USA, 2015
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly
The year is 2015 and superhero films dominate the screens. Endless destruction and heavily diluted moral messages about being good in a world filled with evil are apparently what the cinema going public desire most. Each film is a carbon copy of the previous, characters appear across the different instalments to signify some sort of continuity and the ethics of each hero are suspiciously identical, their motives strangely indistinguishable from the last. The costumes may change and the setting may shift around North America like a solemn tour of morality, but the substance is simply lifted from one film to the next. The principles to which each hero claim to subscribe to, are delivered in straight faced intensity to trick you into believing that they are any different from their peers. Captain America knows he is a better person than you and will never let you forget it, nor will Thor, nor will Batman, nor will Superman.
The tone in these films is unbearably serious, it always has been, and despite The Avengers (2012) painfully unfunny attempts to shoehorn moments of humour into scenes that essentially depict the helplessness of humanity, this seems to be a trend that will continue. Ant-Man, however, could prove to be a brief shock to the system, an antidote of knowingness and shrewdness for the illness of obnoxious honourablility that has manifested itself in the genre. Ant-Man is the tequila chaser after the watered down pint of commercially brewed lager, the spirited kick after the final dregs of your 4th Carling, and a momentary respite from Marvel’s constant reminders that good people are those who fight in the skies with unobtainable powers and mythical parentage.
Part heist film, part superhero film and part comedy film, all held together with a sense of acute canniness, Ant Man attempts to return some kind of fun to a stale and tired genre. The eponymous hero is all too aware that his powers are somewhat ridiculous (the ability, with the help of technology, to shrink and coerce ants into doing his bidding) but he cares little for the established tone that his peers have set, even going as far as to call one of his minuscule allies ANThony in protest. The shift in tone from the no-fun-not-ever’ attitude adopted by the Dark Knight trilogy and the recent Avengers instalments, is a much needed reminder that the genre can be fun, and that entire cities do not need to be levelled to fulfil the spectacle quota.
There are hints of the theatrical strewn throughout the film. The villain is knowingly excessive, the mentor jaded and dismissive, but Paul Rudd, now graduated from the skewed comedy of Anchorman (2004) and star of one of the finest Tim and Eric sketches, finds that rare balance between deadpan comedy and intense action, injecting a much needed dose of absurdity into the proceedings. Where bigger, more appealing names in the genre, such as Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark, have failed to counteract the excessive combat with the necessary tone of humour needed to ground it, Rudd and director Peyton Reed (equally as diverse in his comedy directing, with both Mr. Show (1995) and The Break up (2006) on his CV) walk the fine line between the two divergent genres with confidence. Though some of the more obvious jokes fall flat, this seems to be a marketing tactic in order to appeal to a vast spectrum of different comedic tastes, and for every heavy handed, immature joke aimed at the younger demographic, the film successfully hides a subtle jab towards the genre to restore the equilibrium.
Some may say that the film is not the undercover comedy agent that I suspect it to be and simply makes up the numbers now that the Avengers’ membership is dwindling. But why hire an actor who once so convincingly carried the moniker ‘Crapbag’ in FRIENDS, or a director previously involved in the delightful oddity that is Mr. Show, to take control over a film in a series so hopelessly devoted to po-faced integrity? I submit that Marvel studios have themselves realised the need for diversity in the saga, for fear of its loyal audience becoming bored with the predictable superhero formula, and addressing it by smuggling in an anomalous, curve-ball take on their own brand.
With Rudd we finally have a somewhat likeable superhero. None of us could legitimately enjoy the company of Captain America or Bruce Wayne, what with their whole persona entirely dedicated to being the most principled man in the room, but Rudd’s delivery and interpretation of the superhero, and what it means to be a good person, is remarkably refreshing.
Though the film is not artistically adventurous, ground-breaking or overly intellectual, when it is considered in the context of the genre it is a part of, and the series of films that it belongs to, Ant Man is something of a welcome oddity.
– Kristofer Thomas