Ant-Man Review

Posted: July 22, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

antmanWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Though Marvel has been very successful with their cinematic universe, they have not been above criticism. One of the most common criticisms is that Marvel’s films don’t really give the directors much room to breathe or express themselves creatively. Each film seems to have the same look, tone, and structure regardless of who’s behind the camera, giving the films an assembly line feel. There was however hope when it came to light that Edgar Wright would be co-writing and directing a film based on one of Marvel’s lesser known characters; Ant-Man. Wright is not only a good director, but he has a distinctive voice and visual style which permeates through all of his films. If anyone could give the Marvel Cinematic Universe a more unique outing, it was him. And then it was announced that Wright had left the project due to creative “differences” with Marvel. Though no one has officially announced the exact details, the jist of it seemed to be Marvel wanted to force Wright into doing things with Ant-Man he didn’t want to, so they fired him. To make matters worse, Marvel’s choice of replacement director was Peyton Reed, whose most noteworthy film is probably the early Kirsten Dunst vehicle Bring It On. Clearly this was not an auteur with something to say, but a workman who would comply with the studio’s wishes. Wright and Joe Cornish screenplay was also rewritten by frequent Will Ferrell collaborator Adam McKay. Even if all of these behind the scenes shenanigans didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth, all the evidence pointed to Marvel making a broader, less interesting movie that would follow their formula. I did consider boycotting the film, but ultimately I’m a bit too invested into the MCU at this point and wanted to remain up to date in the continuity. Plus, nothing really interesting has come to my theater since Inside Out and I was kind of just itching to go see a movie.

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a former thief being released from prison as the story starts. Scott is determined not to fall back into a life of crime, instead wanting to be there for his young daughter. However his burglary skills attract the attention of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a scientist who invented a suit which can shrink to the size of an ant many years ago. Pym is kept his breakthrough a secret since its creation as he fears the damage his technology can cause. Pym’s former protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is on the verge of discovering the secret on his own. Pym can’t have this, and so he entrusts Scott with his suit and powers in order to infiltrate Cross’ base and steal his technology. Scott rises to the challenge and attempts to become the Ant-Man.

The basic plotting here is pretty by the numbers and tired. We see a lot of common clichés here, like the flawed but still likable father trying to stay with his daughter in-spite of a divorce, the old mentor with the haunted past, and a character keeping a secret in order to “protect” a loved one. Not only does the film borrow general clichés, but the story structure is almost a remake of the first Iron Man. Let’s run through the beats: a corrupt business man aims to use technology created by the hero for evil, the superhero’s power is based on an advanced suit which the hero spends most of the run-time learning how to use, a secondary ally from the comics is teased for most of the runtime but never fully committed to, a flawed protagonist finds redemption in super heroism, and the film climaxes with the hero fighting the evil business man using a more destructive version of the suit. The similarities are glaringly obvious, and the plotline doesn’t work as well here for a few reasons. The writing is a lot less consistent here, and the current oversaturation of the superhero market certainly doesn’t help either. The redemption arc in particular falls flat here. While Iron Man actually dealt with Tony Stark coming to grips with his mistakes and learning the harm his weapons had caused, Ant-Man is afraid to commit to Scott being morally questionable. He may be a former convict, but the film is quick to explain that he was more of a Robin Hood who fought an evil corporation and was convicted for his efforts. Paul Rudd is also totally charming and likable throughout and never shows any darker streaks. It’s too safe, and it makes for an unsatisfying arc. None of the other relationships or storylines are as fundamentally flawed as Scott’s supposed arc, but they’re so clichéd that they don’t leave much of an impression.

In spite of how standard the plot is, this movie really couldn’t have been made before now, mainly due to the inherent silliness of the titular character. Like last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, this is a movie based on a fairly obscure and very ridiculous comic book. It’s only now that superhero movies are so common that audiences are willing to accept something sillier. Also like Guardians, the film takes on a more comedic tone. That’s certainly the right approach for a movie like this, but it doesn’t really work. Some of the comedy early on actually struck me as fairly clever and well-executed, but the jokes become more broad and unfunny as they go. This is embodied in the character played by Michael Pena. When he first came on, he was genuinely very funny and a bright spot. But the larger his role became, the less sharp the writing got until by the end they were relying on just a silly voice to get some laughs. The casting here is also mixed. Paul Rudd and Michael Douglas are both pretty good, while Corey Stoll (usually a very good actor) is kind of terrible as the villain.

About the only thing I consistently enjoyed in the film were the action scenes, which made creative use of Ant-Man’s shrinking powers and his ability to control ants. Highlights include a fight with another MCU character, a shootout involving a city model, a fight in a falling suitcase, and the final showdown between Ant-Man and Corey Stoll’s Yellowjacket. I also liked how the film is not built around an epic final battle, but a relatively low-key heist. It’s one of the few things here which could be called a refreshing change of pace, though the heist itself wasn’t really as interesting as it should have been. Still, I was somewhat surprised with the creativity Peyton Reed showed in the action scenes and the special effects used to depict Ant-Man’s shrinking were pretty good too. These scenes may not have been transcendently awesome or anything, but they’re neat. On the other hand, my fears that this film would look exactly like all the other Marvel films were pretty much realized. In fact this is onemost pedestrian looking film of the MCU yet. Outside of some creative production design involving the scale of tiny objects, this has the same basic look established since Iron Man and it does nothing to shake it up.

Is Ant-Man a terrible movie? No, in fact I wouldn’t call it a bad one at all really. It’s certainly a watchable movie, with some creative action scenes and amusing moments, but at the end of the day it brings nothing new to the table in regards to story or character. It’s doubly frustrating because I think in Edgar Wright’s hands this might have been something special. Ant-Man’s abilities are unique and the film utilizes his powerset in interesting ways. If that were harnessed in a more interesting story, it could have really worked. As it stands, the movie is an easy enough watch, but one to be forgotten soon after. 2015 has been a pretty lackluster year for Marvel. Avengers: Age of Ultron, despite immense financial success, has generally been considered something of a letdown and inferior to not only the first Avengers, but 2014 Marvel efforts Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. Now, Ant-Man has finished off “Phase Two” in a very bland manor. Here’s hoping the next phase starts better than this one ended.

C-

Comments
  1. reel411 says:

    hmmm not much of an an endorsement

  2. ianthecool says:

    Yeah, it would have been better with Wright, but thems the breaks.

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