Yup, it’s another Marvel movie.
And I say that as someone who casually enjoys all of the films from this studio. It’s no secret that, as of recently, Hollywood has been heavily banking on the financial successes of comic book adaptations, to the point where they’ve been reaching around for whatever property there is left to adapt. Though this case is a little bit different, given that the film adaptation of Ant-Man has been the passion project of writer-director Edgar Wright for many years, even before the Marvel Cinematic Universe was established. So, it was incredibly disappointing to hear that Wright was departing from the film last summer, which occurred only months away from principal photography. To make matters worse, Wright’s last-minute replacement, commercial comedy director Peyton Reed, didn’t seem to have the strongest background in action filmmaking. With all these changes being made late into the production, it became a huge concern that Marvel Studios was potentially turning a fully conceived film into a rushed-out product.
All of a sudden, the people involved with Ant-Man were a part of something they didn’t sign up for. What made this particular film so much more unique than the rest of the Marvel films was gone. Fast forward one year after Wright’s departure, Ant-Man is set to be released in theaters, but with fans going into it with much lowered expectations, and deservedly so (unless you didn’t know about any of this behind-the-scenes tension). As I said earlier, Ant-Man is simply another Marvel movie, which is totally fine if you want some breezy entertainment. It just could’ve been so much more.
Two of the most interesting things going for Ant-Man are that it is on a much smaller scale than the other Marvel movies and it is mainly a heist film. The story is centered on Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a cat burglar who has just gotten out of jail, ready to restart his life and focus on reworking his relationship with his daughter. Though one man has great interest in putting Scott’s burglary skills back to work, and that man is Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Pym finds himself in trouble at his own company when his protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), has discovered how to duplicate his old shrinking technology in the form of an outfit known as the Yellowjacket suit. Afraid that this suit might fall into the wrong hands, Pym asks Scott to break his laboratory and escape with the Yellowjacket before it’s too late. How will Scott do this? With his own shrinking suit, of course! Through this, Scott becomes the Ant-Man: he can shrink down to the size of an ant in an instant, still retain the strength of a normal-sized human, and even communicate with the ants around him.
Ant-Man is an odd enough character to hope that his own film would experiment with the usual superhero movie formula, and the film takes many opportunities to do so with its lighthearted tone and creative action sequences. While Reed mainly plays it safe in the director’s chair, he does a decent job playing with size and perspective, specifically during the third act. The movie also has a great sense of humor, as expected since along with Reed directing is Rudd and Adam McKay writing the screenplay (revising a draft by Wright and his writing partner, Joe Cornish). The film earns a good amount of laughs, even though it never completely utilizes Rudd’s comedic abilities and improvisation skills. The actor who ends up stealing the show from Rudd is Michael Pena, who plays Scott’s partner-in-crime and former cellmate. While Pena often gets typecast into roles like the one he has in Ant-Man, his comedic timing and line delivery is always on point.
Unfortunately, the film still suffers from the typical Marvel clichés and flaws. Character motivations are spelled out to the audience, the film is shot like a TV show, the villain is weak and forgettable…it’s Marvel Studios, what do you expect at this point? Though the most apparent fault in Ant-Man is that it’s a movie going through the motions. For a film that wants to have a lot of emotional and personal weight to it, we never really get connected with the characters. Ant-Man tells a story about two father-daughter relationships: Scott and his daughter, and Pym and his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Both relationships are never entirely developed and because of that, any emotional strains between them feel forced. Given that it’s a nearly two-hour film, it’s surprising that this movie isn’t able to flesh out these characters all the way through. Lack of character development also doesn’t allow the stakes of the film to feel as high as they should be. This is a big issue especially for a heist film because during the actual heist, the audience needs to feel on the edge of their seat watching the characters in such risky and uncomfortable situations. Instead, in this film, you never sense that Scott is in great danger during the heist sequence, but it gets kudos for fun visuals.
My criticisms towards Ant-Man are kind of strong, but they don’t really differ from what I criticize in other Marvel films. Look, I always get excited for a new Marvel movie, but I’m not going to lie to you and say that each one of them features notable filmmaking. Marvel films are essentially made for people who don’t need profound or game-changing filmmaking to entertain them for a few hours, and Ant-Man is just that. I got my time’s worth with the movie, I just wish there was more to reflect on after seeing it. No film should settle with being unremarkable, even if losing someone like Edgar Wright prevents it from being the best it could possibly be. If Marvel wasn’t under such a strict release schedule, with the right amount of effort, Ant-Man could have been something really special, even without Wright. Oh well. Average blockbuster fodder isn’t so bad, either.