While far from being the biggest box office success for Marvel, Ant-Man made its way into cinemas during the summer of 2015 and made a considerable impact, as is par for the course for Marvel Studios, despite the size of its hero.
However, the journey to the silver screen was fraught with the dictionary definition of creative differences because, for a long time, Ant-Man was going to come to the screen courtesy of direction from Edgar Wright and a screenplay from Wright and Attack the Block director Joe Cornish.
Just when it appeared as if that film was going to come to the screen and begin production, the sound of a million hearts breaking could be heard as Wright left the production, to be subsequently replaced by Peyton Reed and a screenplay that would be given a new polish from its star Paul Rudd and Anchorman’s Adam McKay.
Watching a film that was very nearly brought to the screen by one director only to be produced by another, cannot help but make one wonder what might have been. And yet, it’s hard to be too despondent given that Peyton Reed’s version of Ant-Man ends up being a hugely enjoyable one that in small ways subverts the Marvel formula, even whilst grabbing that formula with both hands and running with it.
As the film that would bring to a close Marvel Studios’ second phase of film, it might have seemed strange that it was with something smaller scale, as opposed to the more epic Avengers: Age of Ultron which had been released a few months prior. But given the disappointment that greeted the release of the second Avengers film, Ant-Man felt like a breath of fresh air.
Genuinely funny, and focusing on a smaller scale story that doesn’t resort to blowing up massive amounts of city blocks come to the final act (although there is a lovely subversion of that cliché, visually, that cannot help but bring a smile to the face), everything about Ant-Man screams out charm and imaginative action.
While one cannot help but think about what an Edgar Wright-directed Marvel film would be like, those thoughts are quickly dissipated by the lead performance from Rudd, a reminder of how great Michael Douglas could be, an always welcome appearance from Evangeline Lilly, and brilliant miniature-driven action sequences.
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There’s a lovely directness to Ant-Man that reminds one of the earlier efforts from Marvel Studios, before they became more dependent on its developing mythology and ongoing plot threads. And while those elements have clearly grabbed a large audience and ensured continuous high box office grosses, there is always the danger that it would lead to a sense of flabbiness and over-importance. Whilst one cannot dispute the creativity and great filmmaking of these later works, it’s hard to forget these movies had started with the lighter, fun, character-driven entertainments of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America.
The first solo character to launch their own series since the first Captain America film (one could argue Guardians, but they are a team as opposed to a solo character), Paul Rudd, who apparently never ages, brings the same level of charm and lovability to Scott Lang that is never as in your face as, say, Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man, but who is so lovable that it’s hard not to go along with him even though he’s a thief and only falls into the world of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) when trying to steal from them.
There is the potential problem that Ant-Man can never fully get around that Pym could very well have his daughter do the heist that the story centres around, and one cannot help but wince at the idea that the film has two male characters set aside a female one in a plot contrivance that could resolve the plot in the space of a shorter time.
That aside, the film is incredibly well-mounted fun and is indicative of how entertaining the Marvel Studios formula is at this point. Seven years into its cinematic universe, it shows that Marvel could do smaller scale stories in its massively constructed universe with great aplomb, and that sometimes smaller really is better.