Avengers: Age of Ultron is barely out of cinemas, and we already have the next installment of the Marvel cinematic universe.
Crawling into this superhero-stuffed environment is Ant-Man (2015) — someone who wants to use the power of being really, really, small to do something more than simply float around Martin Short's digestive tract.
Dr Hank Pym has invented a suit that can shrink its wearer to the size of an ant, whilst increasing their strength and power.
Fearing his invention will fall into the wrong hands, Dr Pym buries the research and, conveniently for the plot, decides to keep the suit locked-up at home.
But when his unhinged former protégé nears inventing his own suit (the yellowjacket), Pym enlists ex-con Scott Lang to become Ant-Man, and aided by his estranged daughter tries to stop this tiny invention becoming a massive problem.
Which assortment of misfits are involved in these antics?
Marvel's superhero films follow a routine formula. Take an already-popular male star (e.g. Robert Downey Jr), add an attractive actress in support (e.g. Scarlet Johansson), throw in an experienced actor (e.g. Sir Anthony Hopkins), and line them up against a mediocre villain (e.g. Mickey Rourke).
Paul Rudd who dons a grey mask with red eyes to play a swaggering outlaw who becomes a reluctant hero. (An idea that may strike anyone who’s watched Guardians of the Galaxy as slightly familiar).
As the suit's inventor and chief ant-whisperer, you have Michael Douglas as Dr Hank Pym, looking at his most science-y with grey beard and clear glasses. His estranged daughter Hope van Dyne is played by Evangeline Lilly, fresh from her role as the elf Tauriel in the bloated Hobbit trilogy.
A trio of comic relief is headed up by Michael Peña, while Corey Stroll, best known as ‘That Congressman from House of Cards’, plays Pym's former assistant Darren Cross.
Should we call pest control, or does this nest among the better Marvel flicks?
Thus far, Marvel has fired out an impressive run of popular hits. But Ant-Man's pre-production woes put this record in serious jeopardy.
The film suffered a major setback after Edgar Wright, who had penned a script with Joe Cornish, got ants-in-his-pants and suddenly left. He was replaced by Peyton Reed, a director with little of note to his name.
Happily, it’s anything but. The dialogue is smart and snappy, littered with comedy, and unafraid to poke fun at itself. The performances are equally assured with the cast delivering enjoyably understated performances.
And unlike recent Marvel offerings, the plot is mercifully simple (an uncomplicated caper), with appropriately small scale set pieces (the third act ends on a child's train set). The gossipy tip-montage scene involving lip-synching to Michael Peña's character is a joy to watch.
As entertaining as this film is, it’s let down by an unforgivable crime against the art of helicopter explosions.
When a helicopter arrives at Cross's research lab, you know it's going to see some key action later on. Sure enough, Ant-Man and his nemesis yellowjacket duly battle it out in the air on board the chopper.
With the pilots killed in crossfire and the helicopter taking a battering, all the ingredients appear to be in the mixing bowl. We just need Peyton Reed to put this promising mixture into the oven and set it for gas mark ‘chopper fireball’.
Criminally, the battling duo drop out of the chopper, and we are left sitting there wondering: "where the hell is my helicopter explosion?" Inexcusable.
Exploding helicopter action
What's doubly disgraceful is that the audience if left to make do with a token piece of helicopter fireball action. Controversially, it comes in a promotional video for what the yellowjacket suit could do when fully operational — the choppers involved are therefore computer fabrications, the lowest of the low on the exploding helicopter scale.
In the promo video, we get to see the military prowess of the yellowjacket suit. In a blink and you’ll miss it sequence we see a running soldier miniaturise followed by the explosion of three helicopters — presumably from the yellowjacket jumping into each? But who knows — as we don't linger long enough to find out.
The scene also features in one of the film's teasers.
Like the cause of the choppers' destruction, minuscule.
Exploding helicopter innovation
This isn't the first film that's had computer-simulated chopper casualties (see Fire Birds), but this is the first where we've seen one explode as a result of an insect-sized man.
"This is the work of gypsies!"
The film uses some impressive special effects work to de-age Michael Douglas back to his eighties pomp. They’re incredibly well done with the recovering sex addict looking like he’s just stepped off the set of Wall Street. It’s certainly more successful than our Mike’s own attempts via the plastic surgeon’s knife.
Review by: Jafo