Another day, another Marvel movie. Don’t let that sound like a bad review: Ant-Man is a fun, quirky and refreshingly original addition to the superhero genre, just when things started looking too serious again. (We’re looking at you, Age Of Ultron.) But after a fortnight that has included trailers for Batman vs Superman and Suicide Squad, more on the Star Wars spin-offs, and countless other cinematic-universe-related announcements, it’s all starting to get a bit much. Ant-Man is great. It’s just hard to avoid leaving the cinema without the impression that something, at some point, has got to give.
Of all of Marvel’s cinematic outings, Ant-Man might look on paper like the riskiest bet – even over the talking-racoon-riding-a-tree acid trip that was Guardians Of The Galaxy. After all, he may carry an oversized weight in the comic book universe, but who cares about Hank Pym, the guy with the power to control ants and reenact Honey I Shrunk The Kids?
Clearly, Edgar Wright, for one. The Scott Pilgrim and Cornetto Trilogy director might have left the project, but his comic fingerprint is all over Ant-Man –– at its best, the film fizzes with comic energy and ideas, a superhero film reimagined as comic heist caper with epic fist fights on board toy train sets.
Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang (the MCU’s Ant-Man, through some narrative re-jigging) strikes a balance between comedy and gratuitous super-abs — Lang clearly trained at the Chris Pratt school of superhero acting — and Evangeline Lily is refreshingly kick-ass as Hope, daughter of Michael Douglas’ Tony Stark-ish Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). (In fact, one wonders why given that it’s in desperate need of better female heroes, Marvel went with a film about Ant-Man over Avengers founder The Wasp, particularly given its rewriting of the whole Ultron story.)
Ant-Man’s weaker points come when it hews too close to the Marvel formula (under-written bad guy, occasionally corny dialogue…) but this can be forgiven. What’s harder to understand is its constant shoe-horning of the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe into the film. Hydra, Iron Man gags, Age Of Ultron references (“OK, the first thing we should do is: call the Avengers”). Even Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, only recently upgraded to Avenger status, makes an extended cameo, which does almost nothing but to act as a trailer for next year’s Captain America: Civil War. We get it! The universe is connected!
Marvel’s approach has to date been a hit — both creatively, and in generating vast sums of money. What’s worrying is that all of Hollywood is trying to replicate its successful formula: DC will release two films a year starting with next spring’s Dawn Of Justice; Star Wars one a year including the recently announced Han Solo reboot. Paramount is working on a Transformers cinematic universe; Universal on one themed around fantasy monsters. The very idea driving these films is to convince fans to see every one; but by the very nature of over-supply, it’ll be impossible (not to mention expensive) to fulfil that obligation. Some franchises will inevitably flop. Others, will fracture, and require systematic reboots. In other words, it’ll start to look an awful look like the comics did not too long ago.
So, pick your Cinematic Universe of choice now. Pretty soon it’ll be impossible to keep track of them all.
Ant-Man is out now.