At this point the Venn diagram of people who care about Marvel movies and people who don’t are two barely intersecting circles. If you like Marvel’s movies, you’re probably going to see Ant-Man regardless of what I have to say about it. If you don’t like Marvel movies, you probably don’t care enough to read this review in the first place. If, after eleven films you still haven’t made up your mind about whether or not you care enough about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I don’t know what to tell you. Ant-Man is fun but mostly forgettable. It’s the Hulk of the Phase Two films, albeit a touch more enjoyable.
After stealing the Ant-Man suit, ex-con Scott Lang is hired by its creator Hank Pym to finally make something of his life. The plan: infiltrate Pym’s labs – now run by his protégé Darren Cross – and steal experimental shrinking technology that’s based on Pym’s fabled Pym particles; technology Cross plans on militarising. It’s a nice change of pace compared to the bigger stories we’ve seen in previous Marvel movies; it’s a heist film done through the lens of the superhero genre. Its smaller scale1 is refreshing, and reminiscent of the first Iron Man – it feels simple, almost streamlined, without the baggage of the entire Cinematic Universe (for the most part). At the same time, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s another super-hero origin story, for another straight white male hero who learns that, apparently, with great power comes great responsibility, just not as grand.
Paul Rudd does a great job as the endearingly awkward but charming Scott Lang (in other words, every other Paul Rudd role). His everyman character is a refreshing break from the other bigger Marvel personalities, and being Paul Rudd you can’t help but root for him. His likeability is proportionate to his inability to visibly age. Michael Pena steals the show in the sidekick role of Luis, who delivers the majority of the film’s laughs. Michael Douglas does a good job as the jaded Pym, along with Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne, Pym’s estranged daughter who just wants to show how capable she is to her father by taking up the Ant-Man mantle herself. Corey Stoll, who plays Cross, just doesn’t feel threatening. He comes across as a third-rate Iron Man villain, and lacks any form of presence. He’s just there because they needed someone to fight.
The film’s script isn’t all that strong either. Originally written by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, it was later given rewrites by Adam McKay and Rudd, and this Frankenstein-ing of the two really shows, unfortunately. You can almost pick out who wrote what at times. When they need to bring on the exposition they really lay it on thick, and a lot of the characters feel incredibly one-note at times. A lot of Ant-Man‘s appeal rides on its sense of humour, and when it’s funny it’s really funny, but at other times it feels like it’s trying too hard – like that friend who laughs a bit too much at their own jokes. It also features what is by far the most brutal death in any Marvel film, which felt incredibly out of place in such an upbeat and cheerful movie.
For the most part, Ant-Man stands alone from the shared Marvel universe. Apart from the opening scene and a slight reference to The Avengers, it just casually reminds you that they’re connected. That is until around the halfway point of the movie when they go from a casual wink to outright shouting it at your face. As part of his training Lang is tasked with infiltrating an old Pym Tech warehouse which, unbeknownst to him, has been converted to the new Avengers headquarters (the existence of which only makes sense if you’ve seen Age of Ultron) and squares off against the Falcon. And it feels so incredibly forced, like it was tacked on at the last minute to help set up Lang’s appearance in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War. Up until that point the film felt so self-contained yet still obviously of the universe, similar to how they handled it in Netflix’s Daredevil. It’s a wholly unnecessary moment that reeks of both obvious studio meddling and fan pandering. Looking at that scene in particular, the departure of original director Edgar Wright definitely makes a lot more sense.
It’s hard to watch this film without thinking, “what if Edgar Wright had remained on board?”, and I imagine a lot of people are going into the film will be curious to see just how much of his influence has remained. Wright, who had been working on an Ant-Man film as early as 2003, left the production mid-2014 due to ‘creative differences.’ While not outright stating it, these creative differences most likely stem from Edgar Wright wanting to make an Edgar Wright movie and not one that fits in with the established aesthetic of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – the aforementioned Avenger cameo scene being the most obvious example on offer. While the distinctly Wright-written moments shine through and are easily the best moments in the film – Luis’ motor-mouth recaps, the training montage and the majority of the climatic fight between Ant-Man and Yellow Jacket – they feel restrained. Replacement director Peyton Reed does a decent job of capturing Wright’s style, but he ultimately lacks his energy. The film feels like it’s caught between two visions: Wright’s unique rapid-fire action and comedy versus Reed’s more traditionalist everyman superhero film.
The announcement of Reed filling the director role left by Edgar Wright left a lot of people scratching their heads. After all, his track record consists of a few average comedies and Bring It On, the best cheerleading film of all time, so giving him a superhero film seems like something of a leap. While his direction here isn’t anything spectacular, when he gets it right he gets it right. There’s a great sequence where Lang first uses the Ant-Man outfit and falls through his apartment complex, bouncing from spinning records to a vacuum cleaner to now-giant rats until finally landing on the street. It has this amazing flow to it, and you feel like you’re there with Lang on this insane rollercoaster ride. There’s a really cool moment where Ant-Man shrinks to a sub-atomic size, and transcending both time and space through this beautiful visual voyage that’s incredibly reminiscent of Dave entering the Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although Reed doesn’t utilise the shrink-grow mechanic as well as he could during the fight scenes between Ant-Man and Yellow Jacket, what we get isn’t bad and certainly feels very comic-booky in the best way. While Reed probably wasn’t anyone’s first pick as director, he certainly steps up to the plate and does a lot better than what was initially expected of him.
Ant-Man isn’t a bad film, but for the most part it’s just kind of there. It’s got some fun moments and interesting action sequences, but on the whole it feels inconsequential, just two hours setting up more pieces for Phase Three of the Cinematic Universe. Honestly, it’s a film whose existence probably doesn’t matter in the long run. On Wright’s departure, I can’t help but imagine the Marvel execs thinking, “well, he’s gone but we’ve already paid the caterer. May as well keep on with it.” It’s not a film made out of necessity but obligation. As I mentioned, if you care about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’re probably going to sit down and watch this at some point. If you’re looking for an easy two hours to kill, I would recommend it. Compared to the excess of recent blockbusters like Jurassic World, Terminator Genisys, and even Age of Ultron, it’s a nice change of pace. It may be a slight stumble for the franchise, but the mighty Marvel machine will continue to march on – for better or worse.
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