WRITTEN REVIEW – Ant-Man (2015)
Directed by: Peyton Reed
Written by: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay & Paul Rudd
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll & Michael Peña
Music: Christophe Beck
Release Date: July 17th 2015
The superhero Ant-Man, making his debut in Marvel Comics “Tales To Astonish #27” in 1962, is the latest character to be introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, now entering its 12th instalment. Marvel Studios, an arm of the Walt Disney Corporation, is a well-tuned instrument of movie-making in their creation of their Cinematic Universe which has led to great critical and commercial success over the past 7 years. However, with success comes unwarranted backlash with many “jurnalizts” eager to take shots at the studio for being the “death” of the movies.
Unfortunately, the troubled development of ‘Ant-Man‘ has given this critics plenty of ammunition. Originally helmed by Edgar Wright and announced at the same time as ‘Iron Man‘ at San-Diego Comic-Con 2006, Edgar Wright left the project in May 2014 before the movie was due to start production before Peyton Reed was brought on in his place. This is being touted as the movie that will bring about “the end” of Marvel Studios, their first “failure” etc (despite saying the exact same things before the release of ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘ last year and being proven wrong then). Well, the critics are going to have to wait another few years before calling for the death of Marvel Studios, because ‘Ant-Man‘ has not only crossed the finish-line in one piece but it’s a solid summer movie that fits into the MCU very nicely.
In the 1980s, Dr. Hank Pym (Douglas) invented a technology that allowed the user to shrink to the size of an insect while maintaining their strength and density. In order to prevent this technology from falling into the wrong hands, he hid it from S.H.I.E.L.D. and went into hiding. In the present day, a former protégé of Pym’s, Darren Cross (Stoll), and Pym’s own daughter Hope van Dyne (Lilly) have forced him out of his company and are hoping to re-create the shrinking technology and are getting very close to perfecting it. Hank tasks an expert thief, Scott Lang (Rudd), to infiltrate Cross’ company and destroy all traces of the technology in order to prevent the world descending into chaos.
‘Ant-Man‘ is a much smaller (no pun intended) movie than what has followed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by design. After ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron‘ where a city was dropped from the sky, the Galaxy-hopping or Realm-hopping in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘ or ‘Thor: The Dark World‘, ‘Ant-Man‘ is more focused on the intimate, personal stakes of its main characters. Yes, there is a threat to be stopped with very real consequences should Darren Cross sell his Yellowjacket shrinking suits so they can be militarised, but the main focus is the father-daughter relationship between Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne, Scott Lang and his young daughter Cassie and even an almost father-son relationship between Hank and Darren. ‘Ant-Man‘ is very much a movie about legacy, not just in a family sense but in what you leave behind for the world. Hank Pym hid the shrinking technology so that it couldn’t be abused so he wouldn’t have that legacy and when trying to convince Scott Lang to break into a facility and to risk everything, he says;
“This is your chance to earn that look in your daughter’s eyes, to become the hero she already thinks you are. It’s not about saving our world. It’s about saving theirs.”
It’s a solid emotional centre to build a movie around and the casting of Paul Rudd as Scott Lang amplifies that as despite starting off the movie leaving incarceration, they do make it known that Scott was arrested for exposing the secrets of a corrupt company he used to work for as opposed to it being legitimate, indefensible theft. He’s also sympathetic in that he’s left prison and is unable to get a job at Baskin-Robbins because of his criminal record (“Baskin-Robbins ALWAYS finds out”) meaning he’s unable to go straight and pay for his daughter’s child support. Incidentally, the father-daughter relationship between Scott and his daughter Cassie is incredibly believable with Abby Ryder Fortson being the most adorable thing in the MCU ever.
Paul Rudd plays a great “everyman” but also is able to sell the skilled technician who becomes a competent fighter as the movie progresses as he starts to master the Ant-Man suit which gives him the power to shrink while technology in the helmet allows him to communicate with ants. The shrinking mechanic is used incredibly creatively and visually it differentiates itself from almost all contemporary mainstream movies.
It’s often theorised that the reason the original Ant-Man character did not take off with readers during the 1960s was because artists didn’t draw Ant-Man next to anything in order to get across his small size. As a result, he just came across like any other superhero at the time. But in ‘Ant-Man‘, the first time Scott Lang shrinks in the suit, he does so in a bathtub and the dust particles can be seen in the air and he’s immediately throw out of the bath by a tsunami (to him) of running water and falling in front of a rat which completely towers over him. It’s a great sequence visually and it’s very inventive, dynamic and full of energy, but it’s also essential to visually show off the powers of the Ant-Man suit and how Scott Lang’s density interacts with everyday objects.
‘Ant-Man‘ does a lot of genre-hopping as it’s a drama, a comedy, an action-movie and a heist-movie and it’s naturally tough to get that balance and I feel like if it had focused less on one or two of those aspects it would have been a stronger movie. I would have loved to have seen a great comedy/heist movie or a great drama/action movie as opposed to a decent movie that went for that broad approach because it seems like ‘Ant-Man‘ is too ambitious as a story. While it’s admirable to tone down the action and the scope to act as a strong palette cleanser after ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron‘, when it comes to the dramatic elements, ‘Ant-Man‘ feels like it took a lot of short-cuts.
This isn’t due to the actors, who do a great job, particularly Michael Douglas who is not phoning in this performance by any stretch of the imagination. He’s great at exposition, adding his dramatic capabilities when necessary as well as adding legitimacy to a project as out-there as ‘Ant-Man‘. But Hank Pym feels underserved by the script that he’s in. The movie establishes that Darren Cross used to be his protégé but the movie starts with the two having an animosity towards each other for…reasons?
Yes, Pym refused to share his secrets with Cross but their confrontational behaviour towards each other doesn’t add-up. By the time Scott Lang shows up at the beginning of the movie, it feels like we’re watching the third act of this separate story that the audience are not privy to. Darren’s sudden shift to a megalomaniacal villain is also hand-waved aside by saying that that the shrinking particles are affecting his brain chemistry.
First of all, this is the ONLY time the “Pym Particle”s effects on the human mind are ever brought up. Secondly, it’s never suggested that Cross has been in the Yellowjacket suit before and has not changed size before so how do the particles affect him? And thirdly, if it was just his proximity to the particles and not him using the particles off-screen, then why is Hope or no one else affected? It just feels like a rushed explanation to explain an already weak plot-point.
This feels especially true for Hope Van Dyne. Evangeline Lilly is great in the movie but with her ability to control ants incredibly well, her fighting prowess, her experience working with Cross so she knows the building that Scott is infiltrating it just begs the question…why is Hope not the one breaking in to destroy the Yellowjacket?
The movie has a reason prepared, but it feels like deliberate lamp-shade hanging due to Marvel not having a female-superhero movie and it comes across like a meta-joke…but that still doesn’t change the fact that Hope is the perfect candidate to lead this heist. There is a spoiler-filled reason as to why Hank refuses to let Hope go and there’s a long scene dedicated to Hank opening up to Hope for the first time about it. It has the potential to be the most emotional scene in the MCU thus far but when Hope asks “Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?”, Hank doesn’t have a good reason. The only reason he didn’t tell her was so they could have a big reveal in the movie and so the two can make up after Scott Lang is brought in. Yes, Hank has a good reason to not get Hope involved, but when the movie spends entire sequences demonstrating how she can utterly destroy Scott in a fight and is infinitely more prepared and qualified for this, it just exacerbates the issue and draws attention to itself…while not fixing the problem it’s drawing attention to.
Just like head-writers of ‘Doctor Who‘, drawing attention to a flaw, does not mitigate the flaw.
And in regards to the movie being broad in its focus of the genres it’s emulating, I felt like the movie could have been more dramatic or that it could have funnier, it could have been more action-packed. The only aspect that feels truly fleshed out is the heist and that’s because it’s being built-up to throughout most of the movie for an incredibly satisfying pay-off. ‘Ant-Man‘ is possible the only non-Avengers MCU movie to have a 3rd act that is better than acts 1 and 2 as Scott, Hope, Hank and Scott’s heist-buddies have to infiltrate Cross’ building along with an army of Ants which have their own specific function (Carpenter Ants are used as aerial transportation, Crazy Ants can short-out electronics etc.). It’s hugely creative and I can imagine ‘Ant-Man‘ giving audience members a new appreciate for Ants.
There are 1.6 million ants per human on earth. It’s best to be on their side.
But the third act pays off with a hugely inventive heist, filled with legitimate tension as things start to go wrong and the crew have to get creative and Scott’s friends played by Michael Peña, T.I. Harris and David Dastmalchian all get a hero moment and a chance to rise above the typical comic-relief role. In particular Michael Peña is a frequent scene-stealer and he has a moment near the end of the movie that I’m so glad they included in regards to potential civilian casualties. It’s a perfect moment in the movie and he was the perfect character to do it.
And while Darren Cross turns way too quickly into a conventional villain, Corey Stoll’s performance is brilliant and it’s an interesting visual contrast as he looks more like a bruiser than a scientist. But Stoll is able to make both aspects of that character believable and his villain-turn in the final battle is great and amounts to an ending with real personal stakes for Scott Lang. The ending is also hugely inventive as Ant-Man and Yellowjacket have their final confrontation which is almost reminiscent of ‘Man of Steel‘ in terms of on-screen destruction…but the two fighters are the size of ants so they only destroy half a bedroom.
While ‘Ant-Man‘ is a standalone MCU movie, it does fit into the MCU very very nicely. Quick, unobtrusive character cameos are plentiful, it ties into the aftermath of ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron‘ very nicely (Hank Pym won’t call the Avengers because he doesn’t want Tony Stark to get ahold of his tech and because the Avengers are known for dropping a city from the sky so they don’t have great public relations right now – leading into ‘Captain America: Civil War‘ next year, presumably), there’s a brilliant supporting role from an Avenger that is worth the price of admission alone and the ending literally opens up a whole new dimension of stories that can be told in future. Really, to fully enjoy ‘Ant-Man‘, ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron‘ is the only prior movie you’ll need to recall but it still works well as a solid standalone origin story.
‘Ant-Man‘ is on the smaller end of the spectrum in terms of Hollywood Summer Movie budgets but the production values are still high with great talent, awesome looking sets (the room where the Yellowjacket is stored in particular looks awesome) and the shrinking effects look incredible. The entire filming-style changes when Ant-Man shrinks and you get a perfect sense of scope and perspective. The 3D brings out this size change even more, though maybe not enough to justify the added ticket-price. The Ant-Man and Yellowjacket costumes look terrific in motion and the fight choreography continually finds new ways to be inventive and impressive as the movie moves along at its brisk pace. ‘Ant-Man’, despite its flaws, is never a boring movie and the way they continually find new ways to expand on the size-changing mechanic is a big reason why.
Two words; tank keyring.
As for the rest of the production, Christophe Beck, doing his first musical score for a MCU movie, hits it out of the park. It hits the right balance of being a score reflective of ‘Ant-Man‘ being a superhero movie, while also having a lighter touch and more playful attitude of a heist movie. While there are standalone pieces of music from previous MCU films that stand-out, the overall score for ‘Ant-Man‘ is possibly the best of Phase 2. The CGI ants are also incredibly cute and charming and Scott’s friendship with a carpenter ant he names “Anthony” (despite the ant almost definitely being female) is wonderful to see play out.
It’s great to see that despite its troubled and much-published production ‘Ant-Man‘ reached the big-screen in not only one piece but in a solid state. It has a strong, dedicated cast, it’s funny with likeable character and the shrinking mechanic finds new ways to be enjoyable and inventive all the way through this 117 minute joyride. It’s a solid film, but it feels like it’s stretching itself too thin across multiple genres as opposed to finding a couple that work and really focusing on them. Not to mention it has a habit of taking narrative short-cuts to fulfil the very circumstantial needs of the plot. But ‘Ant-Man‘ is still a very fun time at the movies, is admirable in its intentions to aim small and it’s a high note in which to end Phase 2 of the most popular movie franchise on planet earth right now.
I give ‘Ant-Man‘ 3 and a half stars out of 5.
Oh yeah, and stay through the credits.
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Posted In: 2015 Reviews Current Reviews Reviews
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Posted: 20th Jul 15