This year's Guardians? Well no, not really. But fun nonetheless.
If you don’t expect a grand-scale breakthrough origin story then Ant-Man is an enjoyable film, playing it decidedly small-scale in every respect, and relying on wit and the good will of a dedicated fanbase.Thankfully Ant-Man has escaped its near decade-long period of false starts and frustrated plans – and the loss of the man behind much of that – largely intact, retaining an offbeat streak of prevalent humour (notionally Wright-esque) and some striking visual effects; at once making the most of new technology, whilst also paying tribute to all those Land Before Time-esque classics (and, of course, Fantastic Voyage). Naturally a fair amount of damage was done along the way during this arduous production process, and there’s no denying the veritable flaws that the film attempts to thinly veil with its slightly-more-hit-than-miss gags. Taking its cue from Guardians of the Galaxy perhaps moreso than the more grave and game-changing last few MCU entries - like the seemingly unbeatable Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Ant-Man plays in the same sandbox, but operates on an much smaller scale, almost taking us back to the days of Iron Man's legendary origins, as competing good and bad scientists seek to use similar technology for divisively polarised purposes.It’s a great idea: to reset the scale. But the process isn’t very forgiving: too much has gone before, and this latest entry doesn’t feel like an important piece of the puzzle, rather an introduction to a piece of the puzzle. It's refreshing to be operating at a more low-key level to Marvel’s trademark world-in-plight disasters, but Ant-Man's foundation - dual father-child arcs - feels far from subtle, with characters often doing complete personality 180s; spilling life-changing secrets at the most unlikely moments; and attempting patently contrived emotional connections. There’s heart to Ant-Man, but it's more to do with the goofiness that Rudd pulls out to make his daughter laugh, or to do with Douglas's melancholic yearning to discover the secrets to shrinking to a sub-atomic level, than to do with the jarring dialogue that sees a wig-wearing Evangeline Lilly attempting to emote. Still, even if it’s a weaker Marvel entry, 2015’s diminutive Guardians-lite, and even with the same production problems, it’s no Iron Man 2. And with appropriately miniaturised expectations, it’s a fair bit of fun.
2D/3D Picture QualityWhatever you think of the content, Ant-Man makes for near-perfect 2D/3D material, exploring worlds small and large with child-like enthusiasm, adding a wonderful depth of scale to the piece that brings all these environments to life.
The 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition 2D video presentation, framed in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen, is already near-perfect. Detail is excellent, adding superior texture and clarity, and providing all of this with no signs of digital defects, softness or banding. Colours are broad and vibrant, with vivid tones, whilst black levels are strong, rich and deep with no significant signs of crush.
Whatever you think of the content, Ant-Man makes for demo 2D/3D material.
Conversely the 1080p/MVC-encoded 3D counterpart adds a whole new layer of depth, expanding the micro-environments to make them tangibly real, whilst giving characters and objects a wonderful roundedness. Indeed that trailer-spoiled train-set sequence (and the earlier bathtub sequence) may well provide 3D owners with their latest go-to demo scenes.
The accompanying soundtrack is far from small-scale, delivering one of the most immersive mixes of the year, with punch and precision.
Whilst dialogue remains clear and coherent throughout, rising above the maelstrom, disseminated across the fronts and centre channels, the waves of wonder on offer come from the striking effects work. Even the middleweight orchestral score only scratches the surface of engaging, merely providing more fuel to keep the array busy, but it doesn’t matter, the effects carry the marvel of this universe – small and large – and again deliver some superior demo sequences (the bathtub scene springs to mind).
Driving across the surrounds with stunning sound design, and bringing the LFE channel into play to underpin it all, we get a wonderfully immersive environment peppered with acutely observed atmospheric noises – often brought to larger-than-life, life. An excellent track which more than compliments the superb video.
Steelbook ExtrasHeadlined by an engaging Audio Commentary by Director Peyton Reed and star Paul Rudd, which provides some welcome background into everything from the script to the character design, the key effects work (a highlight is Douglas’s de-ageing process) and the shoot itself, with a great blend of technical detail and warm anecdotes, slightly biased toward the latter.
The rest of the meat comes predominately from fairly comprehensive Featurettes, including the 15-minute Making of An Ant-Sized Heist: A How-To Guide and the 8-minute Let’s Go to the Macroverse, with WHIH NewsFront blending fiction with reality with a series of 4 in-movie news clips, segueing nicely into the vault of Deleted and Extended Scenes: 8 in total, totalling 8 minutes of footage, with optional Commentary by Reed and Rudd, and complimented by a fun 3 minute Gag Reel.
Ant-Man comes with a strong supplemental package and an imaginative steelbook design.
The UK Zavvi-Exclusive Steelbook is a superb addition to the Marvel oeuvre, matching most closely the imaginative work on Zavvi’s original Guardians of the Galaxy release, which used a clever walkman design instead of the standard photoshopped faces-poster-montage approach. Here we get a steelbook fashioned into a hard drive, with Ant-Man breaking through slightly top-biased, off-centre. Embossing and debossing work is excellent, on the grills on the top left, Ant-Man’s ripple in the drive, and the lettering ‘SSD 1TB’ at the bottom left. Although the minimalistic patterned spine and overall design don’t really fit in with the other Marvel titles beyond Guardians, it’s an impressive standalone product which will sit nicely alongside Guardians’ walkman.
Blu-ray VerdictReplete with gun-toting Hydra stooges, crazed scientists, Avengers tributes, gadgets, and, of course, that comedy inflection, Ant-Man actually has all the ingredients to make for an Agents of SHIELD-esque escapade, although this carries with it some negative connotations as you wonder whether they were fully justified in bringing this particular tale of Ant-Man to the, erm, Big Screen.
There are some clever effects sequences on offer (although all the best ones were revealed by the trailer) but it's probably Douglas's original Ant-Man who has the better origin story hidden up his sleeve. There are rumours about a potential prequel, and they've perfected the CG de-ageing for Douglas here, so it is eminently do-able, but with Rudd signed up to a multi-picture deal, it's him we're going to see alongside the Avengers. And I'm not sure he's quite earned that yet.
It's telling that the flashbacks to Douglas's Pym in action often ignite more interest than the small-scale antics of our new hero.
At least the imaginative Steelbook and technical side of things are undeniably impressive.
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