Ant-Man is a Smaller Success from Marvel
Review by Daniel Rester
With the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron earlier this year and now Ant-Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has concluded “Phase Two.” While Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) stood tall in my opinion and was followed closely by the excellent Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), all of the other Phase Two films have left a slight air of disappointment about them – though none of them are particularly bad films at all. Unfortunately this includes Ant-Man too.
The story kicks off in 1989, with brilliant scientist and former S.H.I.E.L.D. member Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) refusing to hand over his “Pym particle” for use in combat; Pym previously discovered subatomic particles which allow for transformative suits. Fast-forward to modern day, where Pym now has no control over his company and it is instead run by his former protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), and his estranged daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly).
Pym is scared when Cross uncovers some of Pym’s old secrets and decides to harness their power in order to create advanced weapons. This leads Pym to seeking out Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a con-man and professional burglar. Their goal is to use Pym’s human-shrinking Ant-Man suit (which also gives the person super strength) in order to break into the company building and stop Cross’ efforts.
By now many know that Edgar Wright was originally supposed to direct Ant-Man since he was working on the project for years. Due to creative differences, Wright left the project last year and was quickly replaced by Peyton Reed. With the director switch and other changes, filming on the project didn’t even begin till July of last year. The project also had four different writers in Wright, Rudd, Joe Cornish, and Adam McKay. No one knows if Wright’s version of Ant-Man would have been superior to Reed’s, but I will say that the multiple writers and varied issues leading up to the film’s creation might have affected the final result of Reed’s film a bit.
No matter the case, Reed’s film simply doesn’t stack up to the best of the Marvel movies. The film begins piling on formulaic notes early on, with Cross as a clichéd villain obsessed with weaponizing things, Lang doing right so he can be with his daughter (she lives with her mom and cop step-dad, played here by Judy Greer and Bobby Cannavale), and so on. We even get stereotyped side characters for the comic relief, which gets old after a bit – though Michael Pena does shine in a couple of spots as his character Luis.
Ant-Man also finds itself in a wobbly spot story-wise. By being more of a caper film instead of just focusing on the usual end of the world stuff, Reed’s picture is refreshingly light and brisk compared to a lot of other superhero movies as of late. But this is both a blessing and a curse. While it’s nice that the film isn’t as weighted down or overcrowded as usual with the Marvel films, it also lacks dramatic strength and overall impact when both fitting in with the MCU and standing on its own.
At the end of the day, we’ve seen a lot of this origin story stuff before with heroes – and done better. There is the typical montage of the hero learning to use his powers and suit. There is an undercooked romance thrown in. There are multiple distant parents and father figures who speechify. I could go on. Things like this aren’t necessarily bad in superhero films as long as they are given a unique approach. Unfortunately Reed and the writers take obvious routes most of the time with the story development – and flood the first and second acts with exposition-heavy dialogue.
Though Ant-Man isn’t a great comic book film, it is far from being one of the atrocious ones. I can’t quite say that I buy the likable Rudd as a burglar, but the actor does do his charming best in the lead and pulls it off for the most part. He and Douglas – who is the best part about the film as the bitter but impressive Pym – really elevate the movie. Stoll (who only gets to play one or two bad guy notes) and some of the other supporting actors’ talents feel a bit wasted, but Lilly comes across well as Hope van Dyne. There is also an outstanding and hilarious scene involving a certain cameo appearance from an Avenger.
Speaking of hilarious, Ant-Man is quite funny at times. The humorous dialogue doesn’t always land, but it occasionally does and a lot of the sight gags pay off too. The third act especially has some playful and silly elements that really stick, one of which involves a certain child toy.
Reed handles the visual dazzle with a sure hand, so he and his Marvel special effects army deserve credit there. Ant-Man features some exciting action sequences and wowing images, which we’ve come to expect from the Marvel films by now. The scenes of Lang shrinking and kicking butt are a lot of fun and are sometimes quite inventive in the way they look and how they flow.
Perhaps the most impressive effect, though, doesn’t involve a big set piece but instead is just a scene of Pym at a younger age. Jeff Bridges was made younger through CGI in Tron Legacy (2010), and a number of other actors have done the same thing for other pictures, but it has never been more convincing than it is here with Douglas. It’s almost scary how good the effect looks.
Ant-Man is never a mess of a film and it is always functional. It’s just disappointing how many of the story and character pieces feel so routine – especially in a film with such a unique hero at its center. The film certainly has its entertainment value though, and I am admittedly interested in seeing where Ant-Man goes in the future MCU installments. I just hope that the upcoming Phase Three will provide better films than Ant-Man and some of the other lesser pictures of Phase Two.
P.S. Stay through the credits as there are two end-credits scenes for fans to salivate over.
My Grade: B (on an F to A+ scale).
Viewing Recommendation: Skip It, Wait for Cable, Wait for Blu-ray Rental/VOD or See It at Matinee Price, Worth Full-Price Theater Ticket
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence).
Runtime: 1 hour and 57 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: July 17th, 2015.