*** Wait a minute! Before checking this out, be sure to read TrashFilmGuru’s thoughts on Ant-Man and then if you like, double back here. Two opinions are better than one! ***
I walked into Ant Man with a bias.
As a fan of Edgar Wright, his departure on the film due to creative differences left me wondering if it was worth seeing. Mix that with the idea that Marvel diverged from the character’s comic book origins for a better fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it all seemed like a recipe for failure. This was going to be the Cars 2 of the MCU, I was sure of it.
Ant-Man isn’t as large a tale as Captain America: The First Avenger or as star spanning as Guardians of the Galaxy. At times, it feels like it the story would be better suited for an extended Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Crossover or a Netflix one shot instead of a big screen event. It actually reminded me of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man in many ways, back when all of this was so small that audiences weren’t searching for tie-ins to next film in the line up or homages to The Story So Far. Ant-Man comes with the MCU connections (and comic book ones too), but if you walk in expecting revelations as big as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the film may be a disappointment. It’s just a hero, and idea that even small actions can have big effects. It’s easily the film’s greatest strength, that it’s so personal. The film’s best components are it’s casting (particularly in House of Cards & The Strain’s Corey Stoll and Fury’s Michael Pena), and the effects themselves. It’s a movie that’s well worth the 3D treatment, if you can catch it that way.
Ant-Man focuses on Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a former thief who is just trying to spend more time with his daughter, or at least be a hero in her eyes. Scott ends up meeting with Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) who brings him on board for a job that just happens to cover his particular skill set. The job comes with a special suit that allows Lang to shrink down to about the size of an Ant, while at the same time allowing him to be much stronger. When Pym’s protege and rival Cross (Stoll) discovers another way to possibly make the shrink ability work, it’s up to Lang to try to stop the progress.
The film had 4 writers during it’s creation. It had Edgar Wright, who many moviegoers know from the Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Adam McKay worked with Rudd in the past on the Anchorman films, and was responsible for Talladega Nights & Step Brothers. Both McKay and Rudd had a hand in writing Ant-Man. Finally, Attack the Block’s Joe Cornish was on board. The end result of all this is a film with a great deal of comedy influences in it, though not all of them hit the mark. I felt there were at least 2 moments in the film where Rudd’s character had a one liner that just didn’t hit the mark, or elicit a response from the audience. This isn’t a terrible thing, at most it’s just nitpicking. Overall, you could consider Ant-Man a comic caper with superhero moments.
Additionally, the writers had to also figure out how to make the character of Dr. Hank Pym useful in a storyline where one of his biggest arcs in the comics – creating Ultron – was already handled in a previous story. I like to think this was handled pretty well, as comic readers will already recognize Scott Lang as being the 2nd Ant-Man – or least this is what I learned from the Marvel Encyclopedia. They’ve managed to keep familiar storylines in place while still anchoring it to the larger tale at hand.
The performances in Ant-Man are good, though it’s the co-stars that potentially steal the film from the leads. Lang’s heist buddies, played by David Dastmalchian (The Dark Knight), Cliff “T.I.” Harris (Takers), and Michael Pena (Fury) were indeed funny in this. Pena in particular stood out as someone who gets ahold of information through some pretty wild sources. Michael Douglas was a strange pick for me when I first heard about it, but he’s actually a fantastic fit for the whole story. Evangeline Lilly looked like she had a lot of fun with this, though her character served as a second mentor for Lang. I wanted to see her do a bit more in the film, actually. Bobby Canavale (Chef, Third Watch) and Judy Greer (Jurassic World) both have nice supporting roles in this.
Corey Stoll has played an ass so much on-screen that I’m not entirely sure he isn’t that way off camera. Between Non-Stop, House of Cards, Midnight in Paris and now Ant-Man, he’s plays the kind of characters that were historically set aside for character actors like Jeff Kober or Michael Ironside. Honestly, they couldn’t have made a better choice here. Cross comes off like a variant of Iron Man’s Odebiah Stane, resentful, evil, and maybe a little crazed. Rudd, on the other hand, handles the Hero’s Journey with ease, bringing his own sense of comedy that works almost as well as it did for Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s not perfect, but the character’s lighthearted nature is a good contrast from the serious gloom and doom that most of the Avengers are going through these days, and I feel Rudd did well here.
That’s another aspect of Ant-Man that needs to be recognized. The story in this may have a larger impact in things to come, but it felt really compact. Since the focus on the story involves Lang getting back to his daughter and stopping this one small thing, it takes a step back from the escalation we’ve been getting in previous MCU films. To me, since Phase Two started, every film’s been a stepping stone with at least one huge revelation somewhere that shows this is all much bigger than any one hero can take on. Discovery of the Infinity Stones, the big reveal of S.H.I.E.L.D. In the Winter Soldier and the events in Age of Ultron cover a large area. Maybe it’s better to say that they have an impact that’s covers a wide distance. With Ant-Man being the first film of Phase Three, it feels almost as if a step back it taken to something more personal. It’s not bad, but it’s different. It has the potential to leave viewers with a bad taste in their mouths if they were expecting something grand.
The effects in Ant-Man are good, really, really sweet. Quite honestly, it may be one of the first times where I haven’t found myself annoyed by what I call “The Zoic Effect” – that technique used in almost every film these days where you’re watching something and the director decides “Hey, let’s do a maximum level quick zoom on that target right there!”, because there’s a chance the audience might not see the subject. I believe Zoic Studios were the first to do that with Firefly and Battlestar Galactica, though I could be wrong. In Ant-Man, that rapid intense zoom is almost a welcome requirement when watching a little figure run and leap up and over objects. Add a 3D effect to all that, and I found myself enjoying that on the big screen. From a directing standpoint, it’s all very straightforward and you get an idea of the influences from all of the writers involved. Still, Peyton Reed (Down With Love) keeps from the film from straying too far away from it’s intended focus. Additionally, though the help of CGI, Disney/Marvel was able to digitize a younger Michael Douglas, and the look of this was even better than what they accomplished with Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy.
Overall, Ant-Man is a great addition to the MCU and on it’s own, it’s strong. I suppose Thor will still have to stay as the Cars 2 of that movie library. Note to viewers: If you’re planning to see this, be sure to stay until after the end credits. There’s a mid scene during the credits and one at the very end.