Andrew Hates… ANT-MAN

Dir: Peyton Reed, 2015

Recently released from prison, master thief Scott Lang is sought out by retired superhero Dr. Hank Pym and persuaded to wear the Ant-Man suit – a weapons prototype which allows its wearer to shrink in size and increase in strength – in a last-ditch effort to pull off a heist that would protect the secret of the Ant-Man technology from falling into the wrong hands.

This is the twelfth entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The twelfth. Which means we’re a little over halfway through the films that Marvel have authorised to consume our summers from 2008 until 2019 (and most likely onwards). So it’s not surprising that it’s becoming hard to find a new story with fresh characters and atmospheres for us to devote ourselves to while superheroes hurl each other through buildings. It’s nice to have your cake and dunk your face into it too, right?

And yet following on from the Cold War, fearmongering subtext of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the facetious space-western Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man plays as a recycled Marvel outing salvaged from the scrap metal of the original Iron Man film. Both are tales of much sought-after weaponised outfits that put the ‘war’ in ‘wardrobe’ but Iron Man’s post-9/11 cultural significance dramatically outguns Ant-Man’s post-Avengers superhero canon. In addition to Corey Stoll’s slimy, spoilt brat of an antagonist failing to fill the villainous void that Jeff Bridge’s Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger exudes in Marvel’s first foray.

Putting motifs aside, the blazing comic book exuberance that previous director Edgar Wright would have undoubtedly brought to the front is also clearly lacking, replaced by the hollow, muted voice of Yes Man director Peyton Reed. What was blatantly designed to be the latest in irreverent, sharp-tongued protagonists is instead neutered and transformed into a heavy-handed Robin Hood with a disdain for violence and a string of bad luck to boot.

Perhaps the most perplexing thing about Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang is the utter superfluity of his character. Evangeline Lilly portrays Hope van Dyne, the daughter of Hank Pym, who has the necessary skills, temperament and charisma to follow in her father’s footsteps but is repeatedly swatted away by Pym, noting a secret yet ultimately contrived reason that expresses more of a motivation for Marvel to keep its line of super-males dominant (despite their announcement of the forthcoming Ms Marvel film). Rudd, while no Chris Pratt, is a fun figure to watch exchange quips on-screen but not punches whereas we’ve seen Lilly hold her computer-generated own in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy.

Where the first hour of the film dwells on the laboured introductions of the characters and plot, the second half is where the faint vestige of Wright’s involvement and the bounce of co-writers Rudd and Adam McKay’s script begins to mesh, culminating in a vastly publicised action sequence involving a train set in a little girl’s bedroom. The ant-sized sequences are compelling enough to occupy adults whilst enchanting children and the gags provide sufficient chuckles to get you through Douglas’ scientific mumbo-jumbo. Unfortunately, this Ant-Man results in a playful placeholder in the MCU that serves its purpose in tiding us over until next summer’s Civil War but could’ve massively benefitted from a step in the Wright direction.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.

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Andrew Hates… THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

The Amazing Spider-man

Dir: Marc Webb, 2012

Peter Parker will never forget the night his parents mysteriously vanished without a trace. Seventeen years old and looking for answers, Peter’s investigation will lead him to encounters with his parents’ friend Dr Curt Connors, high school crush Gwen Stacy, the New York City police and most importantly, a radioactive spider.

A reboot for a franchise whose last instalment was only five years ago seems like a strange idea. I mean, it took audiences eight years after the catastrophe that was Batman & Robin before they were ready for another. Even then Nolan’s vision was radically different. Sure, most people will cynically fail to oversee Sony Pictures’ clause that stipulates if there isn’t a new Spidey feature every few years the rights revert back to Marvel. Realistically, comic book tales can always be told in a different light.

The promotional material for Webb’s new spin expressed an “untold story” revolving around Peter’s parents and the strong effect their characters had on the newly-rebooted franchise. Despite being heralded as a multi-film arc, there still wasn’t enough of an impression left by Richard and Mary Parker on the webslinger and his world. Rhys Ifans, who is both touching and menacing as Dr Curt Connors aka The Lizard, seems to manifest the spectrum of this untold story but is all too busy destroying cars or formulating moustache-twirling schemes to warrant any further depth. Frankly, I fear for any potential sequels as it will be hard to overshadow the villains Raimi utilised in his trilogy.

To be fair, Webb does stylise Spider-man in his own way. The film is more glamorous and reminiscent of science fiction rather than comic book. The campy overtones that Raimi riddled his trilogy with are long gone, replaced with genuine humour and technological prowess. Ironically, the comic book Spider-man’s wit was amiss in the previous films, Garfield certainly demonstrating the egotism and enjoyment that most people would gain from superpowers, “Why does everyone think I’m a cop?!” Sadly, the shift in social paradigm over the last ten years has demonstrated that geeks now rule the world, David Fincher’s game-changer (and Garfield’s breakthrough) The Social Network proving this. As Dylan wrote, the times they are a-changing, and The Amazing Spider-man pays the price for this, as Peter Parker’s low place on the high school food chain isn’t all that present.

The rule of reboots; different isn’t exactly worse, meaning that Webb’s portrait of Spider-man isn’t altogether inferior, simply lacking. An often-made mistake around origin stories is that they focus too much on the story, whereas character should take prevalence – Batman Begins, Iron Man and Unbreakable being the few exceptions. Important plot points that shape Spider-man such as the spider bite and Uncle Ben’s death are brushed past too quickly. The action scenes are top quality (bar an anti-climactic final battle), the visual effects are gorgeous and the slapstick is more than welcome but Webb can’t seem to nail the dramatics, even hiding some of the emotionally powerful scenes by tossing in a cheap joke at the finish.

Don’t get me wrong, The Amazing Spider-man is an enjoyable watch which I would whole-heartedly recommend but the only artistic reason for a reboot so soon after the originals is to have something vastly different to say. Unfortunately, Webb just doesn’t have that creative vision which is peculiar for someone who brought us 500 Days of Summer, one of the most imaginative romantic comedies of recent years. The little things are knocked out of the park – the casting, the special effects, the score… nevertheless the film simply has more wrong moves than right ones and doesn’t justify another swing at the franchise.

Stylistically different but a disappointingly similar subject matter, The Amazing Spider-man is entertaining but will fall short of both the amusement of The Avengers and the expectant theatrics of The Dark Knight Rises. Teenagers will swoon at the romance and children will gape at the action but it’s doubtful that anyone from an adult audience will leave actually “amazed”.

Watch the trailer here