Review: Marvel's 'Ant-Man' Stands In Some Pretty Big Footprints
by Jeremy Kirk
July 17, 2015
Marvel's Ant-Man could have been the strangest superhero movie to date. The comic character who can shrink himself down to minuscule sizes - and, in the comics, blow himself up to gigantic heights - and has a telekinetic link to our ant population had countless avenues in which to enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Our minds could have been blown despite the inundation of superhero stories since Spider-Man first leapt onto the screen 13 years ago. Instead, fun as it might be, the Ant-Man we get is a basic, hardly-any-frills, comic book origin story. Its potential for strangeness aside, the movie delivers on all the surface-level excitement & adventure you've come to expect from Marvel. You just expect a bit more, as well.
straightforward, white guy hero this time around is Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), an expert thief with an engineering degree and an unlucky knack for getting caught. He's spent the earliest years of his young daughter's life behind bars, his one desire when he's released to go straight and provide for her. This proves easier said than done, and Scott is soon back to his old ways, breaking into vaults and looting whatever valuables he finds there.
The turn towards the comic book pages comes when Scott burgles – and is caught burgling – the home of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a biophysicist who has discovered the "Pym Particle," which, along with a specialized designed suit, allows the wearer to shrink down to an almost microscopic size. Naturally, Hank sees the good in Scott, and the two come to an agreement that has Scott donning the Ant-Man suit and taking up Hank's heroic mantle. Good thing, too, since Hank's former company, now in line with S.H.I.E.L.D. or Hydra or whatever it's called nowadays, wishes to use the Pym Particle as a weapon.
There's no telling what kind of Ant-Man movie we would have seen had the project actually remained with writer/director Edgar Wright all the way through. The man who gave us The Cornetto Trilogy and the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World adaptation had his eyes fixed on Ant-Man since 2003, and the film was his up until a year ago. Rumblings that Marvel and Wright split ways due to Wright's vision of the film being "too weird" seem to only be strengthened when you realize how simplistic the story here is.
There's very little depth to Ant-Man's screenplay, Rudd and Adam McKay getting screenwriting credits here alongside Wright and his writing partner, Joe Cornish. Scott's one motivation seems to be keeping his daughter safe, Hank's reasons being not much different. Evangeline Lilly, strong and fascinating as ever, plays Hope van Dyne - Hank's own, estranged daughter who now works for Hank's former, now-nefarious company. These, along with Scott's bumbling team of thieves, make up the good guys. You know the bad guys from their shiny suits and bald heads. That standard-issue crazy look in Corey Stoll's eyes helps set him apart from the rest as the main baddy.
All the while Ant-Man moves from joke to joke, the level of comedy in the first half of the film a clear indicator where its story's strengths lie. Rudd is typically hammy and suitably charming for a superhero. Douglas is superbly aged as the elder Pym, and his unflinching ability to captivate – as well as some of the best de-aging effects seen on film – makes us wish the MCU had come about in the mid-80s. Michael Peña, playing Scott's old cellmate and current partner in crime, lays on the humor pretty thick and with pretty impeccable timing. Much of Ant-Man's first, two Acts play like a modern, Hollywood laugh-fest, the direction from Wright's replacement, Peyton Reed, coming across like the works of Judd Apatow.
Reed keeps the momentum flowing and dazzles his audience between action scenes. Even when Ant-Man flexes its special effects muscle, though, it all lands slightly lighter than much of what Marvel has delivered previously. The explosions are still in there. The digital effects, impressive as they've ever been, bring everything to gloriously visual life even if it's all the same glass building-helicopter-ticking clock substance we've seen before. Seriously, bad guys just need to stop investing in helicopters. It never works out for them.
There's nothing about Ant-Man that completely fails. The film's Second Act is essentially a prolonged montage, Scott learning about his abilities and the good guys' plotting of an ultimate heist against the bad guys, but the chemistry everyone has makes it all entertaining. It also distracts us from how much the scenes of Scott interacting with his new, insect friends reminds us of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids… almost. The standard climax featuring good guy versus bad guy plays out just as you would expect. Reed and company utilize their protagonist's small-scale environment well, turning the typical explosion-fest finale into something much more comical.
There are still glimpses hidden throughout this Ant-Man that tell us the makers behind it were aiming at something different, and there's certainly room for something different with this particular, comic book character. Perhaps going in those off-kilter areas – seeing Hope van Dyne don the suit and/or seeing a full-Hank Pym/Janet van Dyme as Wasp adventure – should come after the basic, establishing story of the
typical, Middle-American, white guy superhero. Marvel knows best, and, even when they're delivering standard fare, they still deliver. Ant-Man, routine and ordinary as it is, still delivers.