Business as usual, as Marvel Studios deliver yet another thoroughly enjoyable, yet somehow routine, origin tale to add to the growing tapestry. Yet as fun as it is, one can't shake the sense that for Kevin Feige (if not for would-be director Edgar Wright) this is just an obligatory 'get the origin story out of the way so he can be in the next Avengers' affair; rather than a compelling story in its own right. While the Ant-Man concept might be a departure for the franchise, the narrative structure absolutely isn't. Its straight-off-the-peg. But Peyton reed's breezy blockbuster is obviously doing something right and claims of 'better then Age of Ultron' are doing the internet rounds. They're wrong of course. Ultron bit off more than it could chew and arguably fumbled the ball slightly; but in going small (in every sense) Ant-Man sets its sights lower with better results yet poorer rewards.
But talking of Avengers, fans of the MCU will be delighted that Ant-Man settles effortlessly into the canon with references and cameos galore. It even addresses (but not answers) the famous question: where are the Avengers during the various solo outings? Ant Man is set in a world where the Avengers are now a well-established feature of life, and they don't pretend otherwise. Its that kind of self awareness and attention to detail that demonstrates a respect for the audience seldom found in non-Marvel tent pole franchises.
Casting ranges from serviceable to inspired. Paul Rudd is eminently liekable as ever, but reins it in with an ever-so-slightly more serious tone that is perfect for the movie; Evangeline Lily is more than just a Pepper clone; and Corey Stoll makes for a serviceable (yet not entirely memorable) antagonist. 12 films in, Marvel still haven't nailed the perfect villain. Keep trying guys. But its Michael Douglas who really shines here, delivering likeability and gravitas with plenty to spare. And how good was his de-aged self from 1989? Kudos to the visuals team for inarguably the best de-aging effect yet. Forget the 'young' Magneto/ Xavier in X3, or Jeff Bridges' mannequin from Tron legacy. The new technology is scarily effective and that uncanny valley is getting flatter by the day.
As a fantasy actioner, Ant-man gets the job done efficiently. The set piece fights are a lot of fun, and the miniaturisation effects are largely flawless. Standouts include the grand finale, and a crowd-pleasing tussle with a familiar face at the half-way mark. There are also the now-standard mid and end credit scenes (the former of which is a 'stinger' in more ways than one) to enjoy. There's really nothing here to re-invent the wheel, but the rapidly changing scales add a new dimension to the standard fireworks.
On the downside, the humour is a little hit & miss, the story holds few surprises, and I dont think they explored the physics of miniaturisation as thoroughly as they might have done. It all feels a little 'safe'. I can't identify any major 'flaws' per se (which is the critique levelled at its bigger sibling Age of Ultron). It does what it does proficiently, but it just feels, well, small.
Nevertheless, Ant-man is a welcome addition to the family and looks set to make no small contribution to the adventures to come.