Travels with my ant

We can trace the genesis of superheroes from Superman himself through the scatter of lesser descendants who’ve taken their names from all walks of evolution – Spiderman, Batman and so on.

The latest addition to the canon is Ant-Man, played by Paul Rudd (pictured). His main trick is being able to shrink himself to the size of an ant by clicking some buttons on his ant suit. (This proves particularly handy in one scene when he wants to get out of jail.)

I was reminded of that great black & white classic The Incredible Shrinking Man, a film that makes people roll around the floor laughing today but which was part of the magic of my childhood. Ant-Man is funny too, but in a more ironic way.

“Pick on someone your own size,” Rudd says to his nemesis towards the end when he threatens to kidnap his daughter. 

Rudd isn’t an ideal choice for the role. He’s been in too many teen comedies to cut it as a character delegated to save the planet – Christopher Reeve (Superman) and Christian Bale (Batman) shared Rudd’s boy-next-door looks but they also had square jaws that reminded us of their comic strip forbears. Rudd is still Rudd.

Michael Douglas plays Dr Hank Pym, the inventor of the ant suit. At 70, he’s just about craggy enough to essay such eccentric roles with some credibility. In fact he’s starting to resemble his father more and more as the years go on. Kirk will be 100 next year. He’s survived everything from plane crashes to strokes. He must be the last living member of Hollywood’s Golden Age. (His wife Diana died last week at the relatively youthful 92.)

Douglas employs Rudd to stop the shrinking formula from falling into the wrong hands. Rudd agrees to the mission so he can make some money for child support for his daughter.

He’s been in prison for robbery and his wife has left him for a policeman (Bobby Cannavale). He tries to go straight by getting a job selling Baskin Robbins ice cream, but once his past comes out that’s the end of that.

The ‘I must impress my daughter’ theme is also carried into Douglas’ story. He desperately seeks the commendation of his hard-punching offspring, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), especially since he feels guilt over the death of his wife. Catherine Zeta-Jones would have been more suitable for the role but this might have posed a casting headache seeing as she’s married to Douglas in real life. On the other hand, she’s biologically young enough to be his daughter. I can’t remember if this scenario has ever been achieved on screen before – a man’s off-screen wife playing his onscreen daughter. It would make a good pub quiz question.

The special effects are scintillating, especially in the last half hour when all hell breaks loose and Douglas gets targeted by the arch-baddie of the piece, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). This man has been threatened by Douglas’ genius all the way back to 1989, when the film begins.

There are also three sidekicks of Rudd whose clumsiness in crime makes them more endearing than fiercesome. “Are we the good guys?” one of them expounds towards the end as they join forces with Rudd to fight Stoll. A good question in the film’s ambivalent cops’n’robbers loyalties.

If you’ve ever wanted to see a colony of ants being trained to put two sugar cubes into a cup of tea then this is the film for you.

Good: ***