My opinion going into Ant-Man was about as big of a roller coaster as its development. My first thoughts (coming as somebody with minimal comic book background) was “Ant…man? Like a guy who shrinks? Real good idea, there. Pass.” However, when I heard Edgar Wright (Writer/Director of Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End) was both writing and directing the project, I flipped faster than a presidential candidate and was wholly excited for the film. In particular, Wright emphasizing that the film was going to be less of a traditional super hero movie and more comedy oriented only solidified my excitement, as Wright has a history of using genre trappings as window dressing to some of the best comedy and character driven films of recent years.
Of course, it was not to be. In 2014 Wright was unceremoniously dumped from the project, the reason being “creative differences” between himself and Marvel’s new owner, Disney. Peyton Reed, whose only directing worth noting was Bring it On and the 1997 The Love Bug, got tossed in instead. It’s worth mentioning he was a big Marvel fan (as was Wright, to be fair) and he frequently stated they just “enhanced” Wright’s script, still using it as a backbone to the film.
The reason I feel this is important to know is because it’s the best way to fully comprehend the Frankenstein’s Monster that is Ant-Man. Is it good? Is is bad? Does it bug me that Disney booted Wright? Did I anticipate enjoying this film, or did I go in bug-biased? Anybody want to Raid the pantry for some snacks…ok, I’ll stop.
Ant-Man is a Marvel hero that I don’t think most people knew about, which seems to be the trend for this second wave of Marvel movies. In brief, his power is that he has a suit that shrinks him down, but while shrunk (shrank? shrunken? ant-ized?) he maintains the strength he had as a full sized man. This is actually a pretty cool power, as it means his strength still relies on his actual person strength and skills; the suit isn’t really “powering him up” or anything, instead it’s just giving him a size advantage. Also, he can control ants with magic brain ear clip thing. So there’s that.
The story is fairly simple. Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas, invented an Ant-Man suit several decades prior (using it to fight in wars, etc.) but hid the tech from his company. Now, years later, his protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll, who many will recognize as Senator Russo from Netflix’s House of Cards) has finally mimicked his tech, and wants to use it to make Yellow Jacket battle suits (and sell them to Hydra, but that’s kind of just thrown in there at the end to make him look “evil”). Clearly he is our ant-taognist (yuk yuk yuk). Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) need to steal the tech and the suit to prevent war from changing, Metal Gear Solid style.
Enter our protagonist, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, who acts his heart out in this roll). A literal digital Robin Hood who was tossed in jail by stealing back from the rich to return it to the poor, he’s down on his luck now that he’s out of the slammer and trying to stay clean. He tries to get jobs and is fired for being an ex-con, while his trio of buffonish friends try to get him back into a life of crime. To top it off, Scott wants to reconnect with his adoring daughter, with his wife re-marrying to a cop who distrusts him and is stonewalling his attempts to hang out with his family.
After his doofus friends get him back for one last heist, Scott breaks into Pym’s estate and steals the Ant-Man suit. This leads to Scott being recruited by Pym (who “let him steal it” to test him) for one final heist: get the Yellow Jacket suit and destroy Cross’s research for good.
If this plot sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because Ant-Man has startling similarities to 2008’s Iron Man (which I consider to be one of the best, if not the best Marvel movies). A powerful suit that could be used for war, but rather the hero wants to keep it for himself. A training segment where the hero has to learn to use their new powers, all resulting in a climactic battle between two dudes in super suits (one of which has way more weapons than the other). Yeah, the similarities are striking.
In the comparison, we run into our first problem: Scott (at least in this variation of the script) is likable but doesn’t change as a character whatsoever. In fact, nobody has any character development in this film. Motivations start and end exactly the same: Scott is a thief who wants to reconnect with is daughter. Pym wants to keep his tech safe no matter the cost. Hope hates Scott and then loves him for some reason at the end (ok, that’s the only change, and it’s completely hamfisted). Cross wants to make a bunch of money selling weapons. In Iron Man, Stark’s transformation from a cocky asshole who didn’t care what harm his creations caused into someone who realizes the consequences of trading weapons for money is a core element of the film. The portions where he’s captured by terrorists, his heart on the verge of failure, and forced to create weapons for them with garbage all while trying to hatch a plan to stay alive is one of the best character segments in any Marvel film. Stark is flawed but becomes enlightened through hardship (though he stays flawed as well as cocky, as that is his character). In Ant-Man, nobody changes.
Which is a damn shame, because when you start breaking the film down, you can see signs of Wright’s genius.
Wright’s greatest talent is making films which are advertised as genre films (zombie movie, action movie, video game hipster battle royale movie) but are actually about people finding themselves and evolving as people. Shaun of the Dead isn’t about zombies or even lampooning the genre, it’s about Shawn realizing through hardships the relationships that matter most to him (his mother, his girlfriend, his friends) and doing something about it. Scott Pilgrim isn’t about insane video game battles, it’s about the twenty-something Scott realizing he’s kind of a selfish prick and he needs to rectify that not only with the people who love him but with himself. Yeah, they’re dressed up as action/zombie/whatever movies (and are certainly very hilarious, much better wit on display than the “witty banter” that poisons Joss Weadon’s films) but they have character moments that resonate. As cliche as this sounds, his films actually feel like they have souls beyond simply being big-budget special effects shows.
You get a little bit of this in Ant-Man. The scene where Scott is working at Baskin-Robbins and his boss takes him into not only say he admires him for the crime he did, but them subsequently fires him anyway is an excellent joke. Everything to do with Scott’s trio of friends is so Edgar Wright it hurts. In particular, scenes where his friend Luis (played by an excellent Michael Pena) explains heists as elaborate distracted flashback sequences (complete with characters lip-syncing to Luis’s over-dramatic flare) are so obviously aped from Wright’s style in their cleverness and sharpness of wit they felt jarringly out of place in a much lesser film. Even the structure of most of the movie, with the introduction focusing on Scott’s hardships of a man trying to reconcile his past while being a good father to a daughter who adores him, all the way down to the final battle taking place in his daughter’s room on her playset screams Wright. And the reconciliation Scott has with Paxton (his ex-wife’s fiance and soon to be daughter’s stepfather), where Paxton risks his life to save his not-yet stepdaughter and the two men find they have a mutual connection as they both love her but from different sides of the fence…this sort of clever character evolution that is done alongside bombastic action sequences is phenomenal, and is clearly Wright.
What isn’t Wright is the rest of it. And here is where Ant-Man stumbles rather seriously.
There are little moments of brilliance in Ant-Man, most of which I’ve mentioned above. The problem is those make up maybe 10% of the movie (if that), while the other 90% is generic Marvel action film stuff we’ve seen before. Scott trains, is bad at training, has to be taught by Hope (who should have just been the Ant-Man…or Ant-Woman, or whatever, as she was considerably more competent) but gets good and is suddenly amazing. Character bits – many of which were obviously rewritten – are bland and offer nothing of interest beyond simply existing to move the plot along. Characters (as mentioned before) don’t develop, with the exception of Paxton, who is a freaking side character.
Character motivations also are all over the place. Pym gets Scott to work for him by saying “I’ll help you get your daughter back” but never explains how, why, or when. Scott just agrees without ever asking or even getting what he was promised. What?
And, of course, there’s some obviously tacked on, totally bullsh!t sequence where Ant-Man has to battle the Falcon on top of Avengers HQ. This scene (and everything leading up to it) is so forcefully tacked into the movie you know it was put there because some corporate executive at Disney needed this film to be part of the “Cinematic Universe,” and having Scott say they should just call in the Avengers earlier (which was a perfect gag, btw, so I’m going to assume Wright put that in too) wasn’t enough. Pym needs some arbitrary thing to complete their heist, and it’s in Avengers HQ. Scott goes in as Ant-Man, the Falcon shows up, they fight, and Scott gets the thing (off screen, I should add). It is then never mentioned again until it is used in a five second shot. Tacked on? To our script? Never!
The point (and the thesis to this review that is about as much a Frankensteins Monster of ideas as Ant-Man itself is) is that Ant-Man is the most generic Marvel movie to date. It’s basically Iron Man Lite, and with people finally starting to open their eyes and call the Marvel films “formulaic,” Ant-Man doesn’t make a strong case in the opposite. It’s a superhero origin story movie to its absolute cliche, with the added bonus of the final battle being aped from Iron Man. The bits of Wright that managed to sneak in make the view considerably more enjoyable, but if they were gone this film would be an absolute bore. Even the heist (the point of the movie) isn’t explained enough in detail beforehand to make it enjoyable to follow like most heist films (see Oceans 11, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, etc.). The entire experience is just lukewarm. Inoffensive, but dull.
So…is it worth watching? Well, if you’re a fan of the Marvel movies you’ve probably already seen it and have formed your own opinions. If you’re just a passing fan, you can probably pass on it until it shows up on DVD, though like most Marvel movies you have to watch them all to understand what is going on (especially considering the next one is Captain America: Civil War, which’ll shove all the ones we have so far in another movie together). I would like to mention that I didn’t go into this film wanting to slag it off; as annoyed as I was that Wright got booted (as obviously evidenced by the structure of this review), I had hope seeing as they kept most of his script in and I think Paul Rudd is a underrated comic. But for all it tries, Ant-Man just can’t stir from mediocrity. It isn’t bad, it isn’t good, it just kind of exists. And considering Marvel movies are already starting to feel a bit tired (with Avengers 2 being the biggest offender to date), having two in a row that were essentially boring duds should be worrying to fans.
But hey, the Yellow Jacket’s lasers made the same sounds as the AT-STs from Star Wars, so not everything from the Disney takeover was bad.
Two out of five stars.
(Don’t like my opinion? Read the first review we posted for comparison!)