Well, another summer of superhero movies is over (yeah, Fantastic Four comes out next month, but screw that mess) and we’ve now hit our twelfth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ant-Man! Oh boy, Ant-Man. I thought it was fun. It’s wasn’t perfect, it definitely had some flaws, but it wasn’t bad. I don’t think any of the MCU movies have been bad. Incredible Hulk has some good points, and I have a serious soft spot for Iron Man 2 for some reason. Ant-Man was pretty middle of the road, which isn’t to say it was a bad flick, it just wasn’t a Cap 2 or Guardians. I know it’s gotten pretty hackneyed to talk about Marvel’s gambles, but screw it, I want to. Marvel has had to roll the dice a couple of times on these movies, gambling on whether the general public will accept some of their stranger stuff. Iron Man was a gamble to just see if people gave a shit about a less popular character, Thor introduced us to Marvel’s weird magical side, and Guardians introduced us to their insane Cosmic world. And now we have Ant-Man, the movie people have been joking about for years. Most of it’s the name. Ant-Man just doesn’t have the same weight as Iron Man or Captain America. It just seems kind of silly, even in a world where a dude flies around with a magic hammer and there’s a surly talking raccoon.
So, let’s start by talking about some of Ant-Man’s positive marks. I think it was a really good idea to skip Hank Pym, and have Scott Lang be the MCU’s Ant-Man. Most of the comics I’ve read with Hank in them put him in the role of “stick in the mud.” Hank Pym has had a pretty crazy life, as most people in comics have, but he’s kind of a bland character. I feel like one of the most common pieces of trivia about him is that he once beat his wife, the Wasp, which isn’t really a good selling point for a hero. He can be a curmudgeonly old scientist, more interested in doing experiments than fighting bad guys. So I think it made perfect sense to make him the mentor of the new Ant-Man. Michael Douglas was really fun as Pym, even though he was a serious exposition machine, basically having most of his dialogue revolve around explaining as much as possible. I also really liked that Hank was operating as the Ant-Man in the 80’s as a secret superhero fighting commies. It was also impressive that the creepy de-aging CGI they put on Douglas’ head didn’t look as terrifying as it did for Jeff Bridges in that Tron movie. Anyway, I really was glad that this movie went with Scott Lang. I really like Scott as a character. The reluctant con trying to save his daughter is a pretty good back story, and in general I think Scott has way more charisma and character than Pym. And Paul Rudd nailed it. The character needed to be funny, especially since to movie played itself so tongue in cheek about its ridiculous nature, and having a comedic actor really helped. But he also really got the more emotional scenes to work. I love the relationship between Scott and Cassie in the comics, although I wish this movie had made her a little older, I love the teenaged Cassie and Scott’s relationship. I’m not saying they needed to like, make her Stature or anything, but she was kind of a blank character in this movie. I also really liked Evangeline Lilly as Hope Van Dyne, even though we had yet another movie without a female superhero in it. I guess we got like, ten seconds of the 80’s Wasp, but that didn’t really count. Hopefully we get to see Hope as the Wasp soon, because Lilly really seemed like a believable superheroine, and she won’t be a ditzy fashion designer like Janet Van Dyne usually is in the comics. I thought the movie was really funny, and I loved the surprise of having Falcon show up, tying the movie into the MCU. It was a funny fight scene, and a chance to show off Falcon’s new superhero costume. But I think the thing that really worked for the movie was the fact that it was essentially a heist movie. I love that the last few movies in the MCU have been riffs on classic genres of film, like having Cap 2 be a political thriller with Captain America, Iron Man 3 essentially being a Lethal Weapon movie with Iron Man, or Guardians kind of being like a Magnificent Seven type movie where a bunch of badass criminals have to band together. And the heist movie format worked well for this movie. We got to see Scott train, case the joint, create a team complete with a getaway car, a tech guy, an inside man, and a mastermind. And seeing Scott and his army of ants sneak into the building, and get through the building was a lot of fun, and honestly could have been more of the movie. They do hint that if they don’t win, Cross will use the tech to be super evil, but it’s a pretty low-key plot. There’s no world destroying plan, it’s just a business deal. And I like that a lot. The Marvel movies can’t all be about stopping world-ending villain plans, sometimes it’s nice to have a more simple, down to Earth superhero flick.
Now…let’s talk about some of the flaws. As per usual, the villain wasn’t great. Corey Stoll was great, I really enjoy him as an actor, but Darren Cross was such a weird villain. I guess the shrinking tech messed with his brain? Even though he was evil before he shrunk? I don’t know. And I don’t really get how he knew Scott was involved the whole time? I suppose he heard that a thief vanished from jail, and assumed that he was working with Pym. At first I thought maybe he was secretly watching everything and was shrinking and spying, but they kept saying that organic matter turned into that bloody snot stuff, so I guess that’s not the case? Unless it was all a huge ruse to throw off Hope? Who knows. He just seemed needlessly evil. The design of the Yellowjacket suit was pretty great though, and the final fight scene was pretty fun, but overall Yellowjacket seemed like an afterthought. I honestly think the movie may have worked better without a supervillain, if it was just Scott and Hank trying to steal the tech back from a normal Darren Cross. But you got to have a big baddie I guess. I also could not stand the comic relief characters. Scott’s little entourage, Michael Pena, T.I, and David Datmalchian just drove me nuts. I didn’t think they were funny, and they really made the movie drag when they were on screen. I already mentioned that I didn’t like that we didn’t get to see a cool Wasp, but it also really bugged me (pun!) that the whole movie was Hank telling Hope that she couldn’t do it, even though she was clearly more qualified than Scott, and then having Scott save the day, I guess showing us that Hank was right, Scott was better than Hope. Either the mission wasn’t as hard as he thought, or the dude who had no idea what he was doing was better than the woman who knew what she was doing. Oh well, hopefully one day the MCU will let their female characters be awesome. Now we get to my biggest problem with the movie. The filmmaking. I didn’t think that it was directed particularly well, and the editing seemed a little off. Scenes seemed to just end and whip to new ones, or drag on way longer than they should. A lot of the shrinking parts of the fight scenes were fun, but there were also plenty of other fight scenes that didn’t seem well shot. Which probably brings us to the weirdest thing about this movie.
I feel like even if this movie blew people away like Captain America 2 or Guardians of the Galaxy, people would still be asking the big question. What would Edgar Wright’s version have been like. I absolutely love Edgar Wright. All four of his major movies are amazing, and among my favorite films of all time. So when I heard that was going to write and direct a movie about Ant-Man, I was psyched. I followed the movie as it was being developed, and then the crushing news came that he was leaving the project, because he wasn’t up for all the universe building stuff. And I was crushed. It ended up going to Peyton Reed, a dude mainly known for directing Bring It On. I guess he did okay, but he wasn’t the strongest director. The MCU movies have had a really good track record with picking odd choices for directors and having it work out great, but this one was kind of a swing and a miss. And I feel like that’s always going to be the issue with this movie. Unless it was absolutely amazing, people would always be bugged by whether Edgar Wright’s version would have been better. And I bet it would have. Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man is going to go down with Stanley Kubrick’s AI: Artificial Intelligence or Richard Donner’s real version of Superman II as an alternate movie that we all wish we could see. It’s kind of a shame, because it’s probably put Ant-Man at a disadvantage from the get-go, but it’s just something the film will have to deal with. I hope that these character will do well in the MCU, that Scott and Hope will make good Avengers in the future, it’s just a shame that they weren’t introduced with a bang. It was a good effort, but it makes you sad to think about what it could have been.
Ant-Man was Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish and Adam McKay & Paul Rudd, Directed by Peyton Reed, and released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
Categories: Reel Talk