Ant-Man and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by Peyton Reed
Marvel films have gotten quite a bit of criticism recently which is to be expected with a studio that has become so omnipresent in popular culture. When something gets this big, it’s only natural that a lot more voices enter the conversation which means that the overall discussion turns into a diverse mix of varying opinions, and not all of them are going to be positive. Still, it seems that with Ant-Man, Marvel is trying to expand what these movies can be with this one primarily being a heist film rather than what we usually get from this studio, though it hasn’t been a smooth ride what with the original director (Edgar Wright) leaving production partway through. Does this movie succeed in tweaking the formula that made the other films a success, or has the shaky production surrounding this film led to a sub-par outing for a studio trying desperately to convince us that they’re totally going to keep up this track record of excellence for the next decade? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with a flashback to that most infamous of decades, the eighties. Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas) is at the height of his career and is respected by all his peers. Unfortunately, it turns out to be 1889 and just like Michael Douglas, Hank’s career is about to take a turn for the worse. He’s working for Shield (which is actually Hydra but whatever) and is the discoverer of what is known as the Pym Particle. Essentially, he made super science goo that makes things shrink which makes aid goo super valuable. Valuable enough that Shield is going behind his back and trying to recreate the formula which is enough for him to quit his job and he vows to let the secret formula die with him.
We cut from there to modern times where Hank Pym has spent the last twenty five years building up his own company and then retiring to enjoy his golden years. On the flip side, we have Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd) who’s a recently paroled hacktivist or something like that and is desperate to get his life back together. Life as an ex-con is tough for white dudes with master degrees apparently and he’s not able to find any work which means his ex-wife won’t let him see his daughter. Out of desperation, he goes with his goofy criminal roommates to pull a heist which turns out to be at Hank’s house and all that Scott can find behind a giant safe is a strange suit. Needless to say that this is the iconic Ant-Man suit worn by Hank Pym many years ago and he may have just robbed the wrong house… or maybe the right house!?
This movie is very entertaining. That’s pretty much the long and short of it. When you take all the pieces together and mash it up into a gooey two hour long paste, it averages out to a thumbs up. Does it do anything spectacular? Here and there I guess. Is it terrible in any significant way? Only in one way but it’s not enough to ruin the film. Are the characters fun and engaging? Mostly, yeah. Almost all of my feelings towards this movie are positive, yet I don’t feel that STRONGLY about them. You’d think that having such a low key reaction to a film would make it mediocre instead of very good, and yet I can’t help but think fondly about almost everything in the movie, from the comedy and action scenes, to the emotional beats and clever moments. Maybe seeing another Marvel film feels a bit too familiar at this point, like binge watching a show you love but have seen a hundred times. You wouldn’t be sticking around this long if you didn’t like it (and I REALLY like the Marvel films) but it isn’t all that different from what you’ve seen before. We’re at the twelfth god damn Marvel movie (and I’ve seen all of them except Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk in the theaters) and they certainly have this formula down pat. Maybe what I like about this one is that more so than say Avengers 2, Thor: The Dark World, or even Iron Man 3, this one feels comfortable as what it is. It’s not trying to raise the stakes or outdo the special effects of the other films, and doesn’t have that kind of pressure on it being almost completely separated from the rest of the movies in terms of how much the previous films inform this one. If there’s one area where it DOES try to outdo the other films, it’s in its comedy and style, and for the most part it does come out being the funniest of the Marvel films and one of the more creative ones.
The size mechanics in this movie are FLAWLESSLY executed, which admittedly is expected from Marvel Studios. I mean, if they could get Iron Man and Thor to not look stupid, you bet your ass they can make the incredible shrinking man look great. Seeing the world from that tiny of a perspective is quite epic in what is probably the movies most ingenious aspect. We get ALL the bombastic, over the top, endless property damage causing, action that we get in other superhero movies, but the action scenes here aren’t burdened by the weight of say rampaging through an African country as a giant green monster or Superman destroying half of Metropolis in one fight. These can be done well (the former) and these can be done terribly (the latter), but that extra bit of cringe you get when watching people’s homes and places of business get trampled by the supposed good guys is completely absent in a movie where the action can take place on a table, inside a massive server room, or even in a suitcase without losing that sense of scope.
Along with the well done action is the dialogue and humor which Marvel is also known for getting right most of the time, but here it feels very polished and focused. The script was penned by several comedians (including the star Paul Rudd) and it definitely shows in the way characters are developed and how they interact with each other. Even the obvious comic relief in the form of Scott’s bumbling friends never reached the point of grating for me like a lot of these characters end up being and they actually turn out to be effective allies for Scott.
The emotional beats though are kind of hit and miss. While Scott’s relationship with his daughter is spot on, I felt that the tension between Hank Pym and his daughter Hope (played by Evangeline Lilly) was kind of forced and didn’t need to take up the screen time that it did. Not to get too much into it, but considering how much time they’ve spent together BEFORE Scott enters the picture, the issues they had to work through in this movie felt like they should have been resolved long ago. Along the same lines, there are a few clichés here that feel really out of place in a movie that’s as witty as this one. Our hero underestimates the lady’s ability to kick ass? Check. Our hero has trouble mastering one of his powers until he thinks of his daughter? Check. Oh, and the crown jewel of terrible clichés. The ex-wife’s fiancée (who’s a cop) is a bumbling dick head. This one REALLY bothered me because the guy actually has a part to play in this movie (more so than the ex-wife) which means he’s in it more than he needs to be and his scenes are low points in a script that’s otherwise quite snappy and intelligent. They do try to redeem the guy towards the end of the movie, but it’s too little too late and I doubt this character will ever show up in another Marvel movie again.
Since we’re talking about the negatives it’s probably time to talk about the big one, and if you’re a Marvel fan then you probably already know what it is. Once again, Marvel has dropped the ball on the villain and this is one of the worst examples we have yet. Darren Cross (played by Corey Stoll) is the current head of Hank Pym’s company and is close to perfecting the formula for the Pym Particle so that he can create an army of tiny soldiers. I mean that right there would be good enough for a villain (even a sympathetic one who’s only looking to advance science) but the stuff they layer on top of this guy for no reason do the exact opposite of giving him menace. He’s laughable and a total douchebag.
The little things they add to the guy (such as being completely unaware of how cute an animal is) make him come across as one of those corporate scumbags from Robocop, only this movie isn’t trying to be Robocop so the over the top aspects of his villainy feel completely out of place. THAT is saying something when your villain is too over the top and scummy for a superhero movie. Oddly enough the movie seems to be AWARE that they wrote themselves in a corner with this dude and throw in a random line of dialogue to explain away his extreme behavior away. Aside from Loki, Ultron, and The Mandarin (both his fake persona and the actual villain) Marvel has always had a hard time with their villains which is the only real consistent flaw with their movies. Sometimes the villain is bad enough to practically sink the entire film, such as Malekith from Thor The Dark World and Justin Hammer from Iron Man 2, and while this one is practically on that level, it doesn’t actually hurt the film all that much considering the movie has such a stronger focus on its characters and the humor which puts some of the pressure off the big punch up at the end to carry the story.
You know, maybe I like this movie more than I thought. It’s not all that big and it’s hardly groundbreaking, but that also means that there’s less pressure on it to outdo what the last movie did. Sometimes that pressure can fall on the audience as well and we can find ourselves feeling like our obligation is to the movie due to its presence in the cultural landscape and this can lead to either overstated enjoyment (*cough* Dark Knight Rises *cough*) or resentment for being so omnipresent in pop culture (*cough* Avengers 2 *cough*). It’s nice for a movie from a franchise this big to pull back a little and give us something that doesn’t feel as bloated and forceful as a lot of summer tent poles can be. While it’s certainly a flawed film, it’s not without a ridiculous amount of charm and lots of great moments that makes it stand out in its own way from what we’ve seen in the previous Marvel films. Like Ant-Man himself, the best thing this movie did was get small.
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