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… THIS IS 40

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Dir: Judd Apatow, 2013

Knocked Up’s Pete and Debbie are both turning 40 and begin to enter mid-life crisis mode. Their marriage starts to suffer as they try to deal with all the difficulties that come with couples their age.

Often do we look at charming or intriguing supporting characters in film and long to see more. But on the rare occasion where a spin-off feature is actually delivered, expectations are almost always flattened upon leaving the theatre. The likes of US Marshalls, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Get Him to the Greek all explored lovable characters but none retained the same flair and allure as their predecessors. Yet with This Is 40, Judd Apatow manages to maintain a very strong foothold on the triumph of 2007’s Knocked Up.

We pick up five years down the road from where we left Pete and Debbie – still in a rut where the security of their marriage depends on the day of the week. Knocked Up took pregnancy as a scenario and painted a contemporary and honest affair while tingeing it with dashes of hilarity, with great success. But where Knocked Up’s limited potential gives out, This Is 40’s long-term captivation continues with its lead characters. Apatow saddles our (un)happy couple with modern-day economic crises, dysfunctional parents and run-of-the-mill sexual inadequacies that thwart the 40-year-olds in their efforts to reinvent their marriage.

Apatow clearly has marriage in his candid crosshairs and as per usual, never proposes an easy fix. The obstacles warrant sympathy for both characters but the film doesn’t pull punches by avoiding situations without blame. Oppositely, the humour is placed accordingly but sometimes misses its mark when Apatow wanders into tasteless or overly-juvenile territory, which will tend to happen when one walks the comedic tightrope that Judd Apatow lives on. However these traits are balanced by the perfect chemistry between Mann and Rudd, not to mention Mann and Apatow’s real-life children who, apart from seemingly being spoon-fed comedy, glisten as the duo’s wearisome offspring.

Regrettably there are no appearances from Seth Rogen or Katherine Heigl, made even worse by Knocked Up alumni Jason Segel and Charlyne Yi who are notably unremarkable. Fortunately the fresh blood introduced in the forms of Megan Fox, Chris O’ Dowd and Albert Brooks are ideal and Melissa McCarthy makes a riotous cameo that comes off like rage-fuelled Bridesmaids.

Sure, the running time (as usual) drags on a bit and the humour behind Judd Apatow’s Lost obsession has ironically gone missing but This Is 40 carries the hefty appeal of a teen rom-com fast-forwarded 25 years, which is rare enough to remain thoroughly engaging.

★★★☆☆

Watch the trailer here