The ‘Hollywood Blockbuster’ is becoming an increasingly unpleasant word. As the likes of Terminator Genisys and Tomorrowland fail to engage audiences or thrive at the box office, it is becoming ever more difficult to trust big budget summer releases. Therefore, as there are two huge releases out currently, it can be hard to know which, if either, to spend your hard earned dosh on. That’s where this ‘What Should I Watch?’ post comes in. I’ll be looking at Marvel’s tiniest hero and Hollywood’s biggest actor side by side, to advise which is most worthwhile.
These two big summer draws can be compared pretty directly. Both feature a central, charismatic protagonist alongside a strong female character and a host of comic co-stars. Both films are continuations of a long line of preceding franchise flicks and both aim to thrill as much as entertain. Yet, it certainly seems that one is more successful than the other (but that will be revealed later.)
So, here goes.
A distinct difference is borne between Rudd’s Ant-Man and Cruise’s Rogue Nation from the offset. Ant-Man is essentially another Marvel origins story. From the sand-dusted beginnings of RDJ’s Iron Man to the immasculinated Steve Rodgers enlisting to become Cap’n A, even the casual cinema-goer has been well versed in how Marvel creates their most mighty heroes. A man (predominantly) is thrown into a situation that he struggles to deal with (terrorists, World War or in Ant-Man’s case, estrangement from his daughter) and takes an opportunity to improve themselves and fight back against the forces working against them. This usually involves a sparkly new outfit, usually with a rather snug fit. Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man is no different. The first hour is clogged with introductions and slight developments that inevitably unite Scott Lang (Rudd) with his destiny.
Without needing to commit half of the picture to introductions, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation has more time for story. Without weighty explanations of situation or science, Rogue Nation is well into its story swing within the opening quarter hour and it flourishes because of it. After recapping where the IMF and Syndicate are and introducing the few new faces, the story between Hunt and his newest nemesis is wholly committed to.
Ant-Man does not have this luxury and its story struggles as a result. The time taken for Lang to connect with Dr. Hank Pym is extenuated as we need background on not only our protagonist, but also the scientific tech. This takes time and soon becomes tedious. The story threatens to pick up on many occasions but fails to truly do so until the film’s final third.
Thankfully however, Ant-Man has a splendid choice in its protagonist. Not only is Paul Rudd’s cheeky face almost the best part of Ant-Man, his character is also rather well-developed. His character, Scott Lang, doesn’t have a huge arc and has no overwhelming revelation that helps him save the day, but this is somehow more charming. Lang stays on practically the same level but one cannot help root for the misguided miscreant.
Equally, Rogue Nation succeeds through its protagonist. Whilst this is by no means Cruise’s most compelling performance, Ethan Hunt continues to be a strong and adequate lead character. Cruise brings a natural importance to the character that even one unacquainted with the franchise could immediately feel.
Both lead men are wonderfully supported by all-star casts. Both films require ‘teams’ to save the day, with characters mirroring each other to a degree. Immediately apparent is that the film’s both feature an actor of superb comic timing. The comic centre in Rogue Nation is the returning Simon Pegg, who again fails to disappoint. More impressive however is the continuing breakout of Michael Pena (in Ant-Man). After impressing smaller audiences with shining performances in the likes of Fury and End of Watch, Michael Pena is a comedy masterstroke and litters the picture with consistent chunks of humour.
Both pictures also prominently feature one truly bad-ass female. In Ant-Man the relationship is straightforward. Evangeline Lilly plays Hank Pym’s daughter Hope, who feels betrayed by Lang’s presence. She more than holds her own alongside cinematic heavyweight Douglas and the charming presence of Rudd. She is truly excellent and gives the best acting performance of the picture. Her striking beautiful is most certainly not the only reason the Marvel Cinematic Universe has took her under its wing.
In Rogue Nation, however, our kick-ass female has a more complex relationship with the film’s lead. After an early exchange throws a spanner into the cogs of the story, Rebecca Ferguson playing the devious Isla Faust, is the necessary unknown. Her presence provides a sense of tension, intrigue and frustration to the picture, giving the story added dimensions simply not present in Ant-Man.
A final important mirroring character comes in the form of each film’s antagonist. Both are men who feel duped or done wrong by something that they had wholeheartedly subscribed to, and take matters into their own hands to right these wrongs. Pretty standard motives admittedly, but they are presented with differing levels of quality. Whereas Rogue Nation’s Lane (Harris) is a creepy, heartless and rounded opposite to Ethan Hunt, Ant-Man’s villain simply feels half-baked. Darren Cross, who creates Yellowjacket (an Ant-Man rip-off), fails to hold the gravitas of power or situation to ever feel a considerable threat. His appearance in his insect suit may look very sleek, but this is as far as Yellowjacket impresses. He is not given enough screen-time or discussion to feel imposing. As somewhat faltered Age of Ultron, Cross’ claims are simply too large and too outrageous to connect as a viable goal. Stoll gives his all but fails to recover a weak character with less than no development. Thankfully Lane is given adequate power and position over our protagonist and feels legitimately threatening to the landscape of the M:I world.
An interesting comparison can be made by the role of action in the two films. Unsurprisingly, both films feature long and ambitious action sequences to thrill audiences (and both succeed). However, as one feel reliant on set-pieces to entertain, the other simply utilises daring set-pieces to enhance the story already unfolding.
Rogue Nation follows the Mission: Impossible tradition of including outlandish stunts, performed by Cruise himself, to get audiences talking and bums on seats. The heavily-advertised plane stunt is performed to open the film with a bang but Rogue Nation never dares to rely on such remarkable visuals. Such moments act as checkpoints on the trail of the story, but never supersede the importance of developing the plot.
This does not always feel the case in Ant-Man. The film has been quoted by some as a “heist” film, but this is to give the picture too much credit; it doesn’t stray that far away from its Marvel home. It utilises heist scenes to spice up the slow character arcs and keep the audiences engaged. However, set-pieces take over the latter scenes in an attempt to cover over the lack of tension between our hero and villain. Perspective puns and size shifts are liberally enforced to bring some originality to the superhero genre, but as much as they are enjoyable to see, fail to truly thrill. Whereas Cruise is involved in some very impressive hand-to-hand bouts, such as a marvellous ballet above an opera, Ant-Man seems too content allowing a tiny thing to throw bigger things around the room.
This is not a critique based on budgets. Whilst Ant-Man has a lot less to work with, Rogue Nation soars thanks to its big bucks, it is the ambition and commitment to story and character development that leaves these two films acres apart. Ant-Man is the latest in a long line of Marvel films following the same playbook, whereas Rogue Nation has taken the relative success of Ghost Protocol and turned on the afterburners. Rogue Nation’s villain is a chilling figure acting with reckless abandon, whilst Ant-Man’s is a cold villain, acting recklessly before abandoning. Rogue Nation’s female lead is a complex source of intrigue and it’s visual set-pieces are not the film’s metaphorical tent poles. Ant-Man surely shrinks in comparison to the much more impressive Mission: Impossible –Rogue Nation.
Header images courtesy of collider and comicbookmovie. Images courtesy of askmen, comingsoon, forbes, screenrant, forbesa dn ibtimes respectively.