Normally the UK is quite fortunate when it comes to major film releases, particularly with Marvel films that have generally arrived in our cinemas about a week before they debut in the United States. Gone are the days when the film would come out in the US, and then months would pass by before it arrived on big screens across the Atlantic. Or so we thought. With the release of Ant-Man and the Wasp (and The Incredibles 2) Disney decided to push back the UK release - seemingly thanks to the World Cup which ended last month
It's news that people, myself included, got incredibly annoyed about because both films were pushed back by just under a month. The Incredibles 2 arrived last week following England's loss to Croatia, but Ant-Man and The Wasp is still over two weeks away. Whichever person or people at Disney made this decision deserves a slap from fans, though I'm sure there were lots of complicated statistics and projections backing up the decision long before it was made. As of this week fewer than 10 countries/regions are still waiting for the Disney-mandated release date, including the UK and Ireland. The thing is, though, that list does not include a number of our closer neighbours in mainland Europe. That includes France, which is perhaps the easiest continental European country we can get to.
This annoyed me quite a bit, since Europeans are usually quite keen on that whole 'football' thing. Instead of just whining on the internet, I hatched a plan to channel my frustration into something useful. If Disney was going to keep Ant-Man and the Wasp from me, I had to do the nerdiest thing possible and bring myself to Ant-Man and the Wasp. So I went to France and watched it there.
Why not? I'm a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and have been since I saw Iron Man whenever it was released on DVD back in 2008. But reading my in-depth guide to the MCU should have told you as much already. I've been vocally pissed off about Disney's decision to delay the film's UK release since the news first broke, much like Wasp-actress Evangeline Lilly. And France is right there sitting south west of Kent doing nothing, getting the film well ahead of us - even though the French currently have a much better reason to prioritise football over superheroes.
Going to France by train isn't that much more difficult than going to Manchester, so if I have the opportunity to see the film early you can be damn sure I'm going to embrace my not-so-hidden geeky side. Going further I made the decision to do it on 18th July, the very day Ant-Man and the Wasp arrived in French cinemas. That meant I got to see it a full 15 days before the UK's 2nd August premiere.
There are a lot of different ways we Brits can get to mainland Europe, the cheapest of which involves getting on a boat at Dover and sailing to Calais. There's also the Eurotunnel, the Eurostar, and aeroplane, all of which come with their respective pros and cons. Since I don't own a car, and have a massive eyesore called London standing between me and the south east coast, the only real option available to me was the Eurostar - mainly because it was the cheapest option and didn't involve dealing with the hassle of the airport.
The plan itself was quite simple: get the train to Lille, find a cinema that's showing the film in English, then get the train back home. Nothing too complex there, with the only real issue being making sure I had enough time to get to Lille, see the film, and make it home within a day. My secondary goal was to keep costs to a minimum, with the only conceivable obstacle being the slight chance there wouldn't be an appropriate screening somewhere within the city. France is known as a country of cinema-goers, but I found cinemas themselves aren't all that keen on publishing their schedules ahead of time.
I similarly had to contend with the fact most of the cinemas in Lille seem to be more arthousey type places, showing a range of classic and independent films. As I was checking the various moviehouses ahead of time I saw the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, My Neighbor Totoro, and even Return of the King. That's right, the Lord of the Rings one. But I wagered somewhere would be showing it in English (with French subtitles), and as it turned out there was. One cinema close to the centre of the city (handy), with a single English screening that I would be able to make.
I wouldn't say I'm the luckiest person in the world, so I had this nagging feeling that something was going to go wrong. At first it was that nowhere would be screening Ant-Man and the Wasp with English audio. Then it was that the one screening I could make would be fully booked, despite being at 2pm on a Wednesday. After all that went well I was terrified was that I'd end up oversleeping, missing the train and ruining the whole. For that very reason I was wide awake at 6am, less than half an hour's travel time from St Pancras train station, even though I didn't have to physically be there until 8.25 ready for an 8.54 departure.
I wasn't very happy about this whole situation, especially given how hot it had been the night before. I tend to have to get up at 8.30, starting work shortly after, and I was so not impressed with the fact I had to be standing in a large queue at passport control that early. Especially not after I saw the biometric security gates weren't on, and everyone had to have their passports checked manually. If I were a die-hard UKIP supporter that had never left the country, I'd have been shocked at this line and all that security. The party seems to have the impression there are no border controls between the UK and the rest of the EU, so I imagine they'd be doubly annoyed at having to wait so long.
If you've never experienced train security before, it's like airport security but not quite as restrictive. There are no rules about liquid quantities and you don't have to check any of your baggage in the hold. They just need to verify your ticket and passport, then x-ray your stuff for anything dodgy. I had no idea what classified as dodgy either, as I hadn't even thought to look ahead. As it turns out what you can't take on board is basically the same. No weapons, no explosives, and so on.
Interestingly on the French side staff also wander around with signs emphasising that taking WWI-era ammunition and explosives on the train is also definitely not ok. Clearly they've had problems with British tourists trying to take home morbid souvenirs from nearby Flanders.
Travelling by Eurostar itself is much nicer than a plane, or even your standard British train, even in Standard class. You're still sealed in a metal tube with a bunch of other people, but there's free Wi-Fi, enough leg room for my 6'4 self, and no rules about when you can or can't go to the toilet. But it is a train so you're still quite likely to find a random person sitting in your seat.
Travel time to Lille was just under 90 minutes, which wasn't that boring, but I could have gone all the way to Paris or Brussels if I'd felt like it - each of which would take around 2h20 and 1h50 respectively. Once I arrived I found getting off was exactly the same as getting off a regular train. No passport gates, border police, or any of the stuff you'd find in the airport. I can't say the same for the return leg, however, since it seems St Pancras proper is a lot like the nearby Underground station - a maze designed to make people walk as much as possible.
Once I was in Lille all I needed to do was find the cinema with the help of EU roaming, and discovered it was about 10-15 minutes walk from the train station. Once I found it and made sure I wouldn't be missing out on the screening, I wandered around playing Pokémon Go and sampling the delights of a French shopping centre. Did anyone else know there are Primarks in France?
It was hardly the most stressful itinerary in the world, which was a lovely feeling, and most buildings had air conditioning which I very much enjoyed. I can also confirm that the Pokémon in France are the same as the ones here, and do not come with any berets or moustaches.
Going to the cinema is France is just like going to the cinema here, except there's French architecture, Euros, and subtitles. Even the self-service machines have English language options, so you don't need to embarrass yourself by revealing your obvious ignorance of a language other than English. That was a big concern of mine, seeing as how I once said "I'm sorry I don't speak English" in English to someone who was speaking to me in German.
Weirdly, though, Ant-Man and the Wasp is not the film's title in France. It's been partially translated into French as Ant-Man et la Guêpe, with guêpe being the French word for wasp. Why? I'm not too sure. Checking French Wikipedia tells me that the MCU films have used a blend of English and French since the beginning. Iron Man is still Iron Man, but The Incredible Hulk is L'Incroyable Hulk. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is Captain America: Le Soldat de l'hiver. Ant-Man was simply Ant-Man, so I assume that's being kept round for brand recognition, but I'm not sure why they translated The Wasp. Wouldn't it make more sense to translate both or neither hero's names?
The noticeable difference in the cinema experience was that there seem to be fewer adverts in France. Or at least there are at the UGC cinema chain, which showed trailers and ads (in that order) for a total of 15 minutes. My local cinema (a Vue) shows a full half hour of both, including a cheesy and clichéd voice sternly telling you not to talk or use your phone. It's changed once in the four years I've been frequenting Vue cinemas, and it's starting to get on my nerves.
My opinion on the film though? It's good. Not as good or funny as Ant-Man, but still well worth watching. But that's all I'll say. Read our review if you want something more in-depth.
This little trip let me see Ant-Man and the Wasp more than two weeks early, which is great, and it's the kind of thing pretty much anyone could have done themselves. Assuming they have a passport.
But it's not what you'd call convenient. For starters the Eurostar is expensive, and even the cheapest return tickets cost in excess of £80. That also meant having to travel at pretty odd times, and had led to an awful lot of waiting around. My outbound train left London at 8.54 and arrived at 10.23 (BST), and my return didn't leave Lille until 6.34pm (BST). Account for two hours and 15 minutes to see the film and I was left with just shy of six hours to kill.
If I were a normal person who does normal things I'd have recommended making a proper day of it, and get some touristy stuff in during the downtime. But I am not a normal person and had a feature to write, so I occupied my time what that. I am increasingly aware that not everyone wants to go to another country and spend all their free time working, or putting in the time and effort. My trip ended up taking up around 10 1/2 hours in total, and I ended up both exhausted and sore for the better part of the next two days. Someone please buy me better shoes.
That said if Disney ever pulls this stupid stunt again you should remember that France is right there. It's probably easier to get to than Scotland if you live in the South of England, even with the added border security. There's no point doing it now, though, unless you really want to take a day trip and try to ignore the subtitles. The film is out here, and if you like Marvel films you should find the time to go and watch it. If anything it'll make the wait for Avengers 4 a little easier.
This article originally ran on 19th July, and has been updated to account for the fact that the film is now playing in cinemas across the UK and Ireland.