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.

Andrew Hates… BEHIND THE CANDELABRA

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Dir: Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Scott Thorson, a young animal trainer for Hollywood films, is introduced to Liberace (“Call me Lee”) backstage at one of his Las Vegas concerts. Immediately taking a liking to one another, Scott moves in with Lee and they begin a romance which would come to define the last ten years of Liberace’s life and change his legacy forever.

“It’s funny that this crowd would like something this gay”, states Matt Damon’s Scott Thorson during Behind the Candelabra’s opening Liberace performance. To which Scott Bakula’s character replies, “Oh, they have no idea he’s gay”. In essence this exchange sums up the entire film as Soderbergh (with the help of Thorson’s source material) peels back the synthetic surface of what was Liberace’s fame and reveals an intimate, no-holds-barred glimpse into a remarkable relationship conflicted by, in a word, identity.

As mentioned previously, we first meet Liberace through the eyes of 17-year old Scott Thorson during a magnificent rendition of the Boogie Woogie that razzles and dazzles in the ways that Mr Showmanship excelled at. After that, we strip away the piano but not the pearls and are introduced to Lee, who Michael Douglas slips into like a rhinestone-studded glove. Though kitted in cosmetics aplenty, Douglas avoids wearing his role like a mask, as we do get with so many of those heavy-handed biopic portrayals. Douglas becomes Liberace – diva incarnate – exhibiting so much gusto that it’s almost bursting through the screen. However it’s Matt Damon who has the harder role as the impressionable and youthful viewpoint, unsure as to his orientation and suddenly strewn into a new world in which wealth is lavished upon him. Fortunately, Damon is equally superb as Douglas, though his role is slightly reminiscent of his turn as Dickie Greenleaf in The Talented Mr Ripley.

The story is hardly complex and it’s all a mite predictable but none of that matters to the enjoyment of the film. Rob Lowe is hilarious as Lee’s waxed, stretched plastic surgeon who looks more mannequin than man and Dan Akyroyd grounds the film just enough as the frustrated agent, tired of dealing with the Liberace’s short-lived affairs. It’s simply a shame that Behind the Candelabra was released as a HBO TV movie in the States and is therefore ineligible for any Academy Awards, for this might be the finest performance Michael Douglas has ever given while also being one of Soderbergh’s best pictures.

Bound by vulnerable performances from a committed cast, Behind the Candelabra is a marvellous and heart-warming presentation of the hidden life of Liberace – one that is flamboyant and comical but refrains from slipping into tasteless caricatures. Soderbergh expertly crafts a perfect blend of style and subtlety, capturing one of the most peculiar relationships the world has never seen.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Watch the trailer here.