I have been weirdly a little obsessed with Ant-Man ever since I first discovered that he was a Marvel character. My only exposure to Marvel is from the movies – I’ve never read any of the comic books – and I distinctly remember checking out the Avengers exhibit at the Cartoon Museum in San Francisco back in 2012 and thinking to myself “hold up – there’s a guy named Ant-Man that is part of the Avengers??” I hadn’t fully grasped how weird things got in the world of comics, especially in the sixties and seventies when a lot of the people involved with comics were most likely hitting the old peace pipe a little hard. The idea that there was a superhero whose powers involved shrinking down to the size of an ant was both hilarious and intriguing to me and I’ve had a little soft spot for Ant-Man ever since. I didn’t spend a lot of time delving into the mythology of who Ant-Man was or his role in the larger Marvel universe, but I kind of liked the idea that he was a thing that existed. I was more on board with the wacky general concept rather than the actual details. When I heard that they were making an Ant-Man movie, I was perhaps the only person who was excited about it; with Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel proved that they can take some of the more odd properties in their catalog and turn it into a hit. I was curious to learn more about this character and to see what tone the film would take – I assumed given the source material that this film would be more on the fun end of the Marvel spectrum. If you’re trying to sell the idea of an Ant-Man, you probably should be doing so with a wink and a nod.
This may not be the best entry in the Marvel universe and it definitely has its problems, but the fact that they made Ant-Man fun and had someone as charismatic as Paul Rudd in the lead meant that it could overcome its shortcomings to be an enjoyable film. Ant-Man is kind of messy, but as long as you are willing to just be along for the ride it is an amusing cinematic experience. They even found a way to make the idea of Ant-Man seem less ridiculous than it actually is, which is a score for them. They didn’t completely double down on the campiness inherent in the concept, but they wisely didn’t play it completely straight either. Ant-Man is more a funny heist movie than your typical Avenger-era film, but it is a nice change of pace for an audience which may be beginning to suffer a little superhero fatigue.
Ant-Man tells the story of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a basically good guy who has just gotten out of prison and desperately wants to have a relationship with his young daughter Cassie. Scott is recruited by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) to stop Pym’s protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from selling shrinking technology that Pym helped develop to the highest bidder. To do this, Scott must become Ant-Man – wear a suit that allows him to shrink down to the size of an ant and avoid detection when sneaking in to destroy what Cross has created. I simplified that A LOT, but that’s the general gist and avoids a lot of spoilers.
First the good – Ant-Man has assembled a great team of actors for this movie, led by the always affable Paul Rudd. If you put a lot of other actors in the Ant-Man suit, I don’t know of this film would work half as well. Rudd is so likeable and yet so not your typical superhero that he elevates the material (which he helped write) to a whole different level. You automatically root for him and are immediately invested in him as a character. Rudd is funny but also believable as a guy that is thrust into this bizarre situation. Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly are also strong and bring an interesting dynamic to their father/daughter story. Corey Stoll’s material is a little problematic – more on that to follow – but he does the best with what he’s given. Michael Pena succeeds in stealing almost every scene that he’s in as Scott’s former cellmate and pal on the outside. He gets some of the better one-liners and it doesn’t hurt to add a little more diversity to the Marvel universe. Bobby Cannavale and Judy Greer don’t have a ton to do as Scott’s ex-wife and her new (police officer) fiancé, but it’s always nice to see either one of them show up and they make the most of their limited screen time. The acting definitely isn’t the issue in Ant-Man; everyone does a nice job throughout.
Where Ant-Man stumbles a bit is in its narrative; there are a lot of times in the film where it almost feels like they skipped a few pages of the script that explains why people are doing what they are doing. The biggest victim of this is Darren Cross, who the film spends very little time developing and winds up being a very one-dimensional bad guy. It’s never clear why Cross is so worked up over Pym’s approval or if he was ever not the jerk that we see. He seems really upset about something, but because they don’t spend much time on him he just comes across as a generic bad guy. They also don’t do a very good job of explaining how Pym went from the first scene in the movie to where we meet him later on or why he is so convinced that Scott is the only man for the job. A lot of the motivation for characters is either assumed or never addressed really addressed. Ant-Man sometimes subscribes to the “tell, not show” philosophy; for example, they short-cut the idea that the Pym particle causes psychological problems by just saying that, rather than demonstrating it in action. The film is also occasionally tonally inconsistent – it’s mostly light and funny but then there are some sharp turns into melodrama before returning to the silly hijinks. This may be a result of the checkered production history that Ant-Man suffered, with a lot of turnover in writing and directing. Because Marvel has an exact timeline for the release of these films, I can’t help but wonder if some of the flaws of Ant-Man are a result of them having to hit a certain deadline regardless if it would have benefitted the film to have a slight delay. I find a lot of Marvel movies to be unnecessarily complicated, but because Ant-Man is a less explosive film, the plot holes are a little more obvious.
Some other thoughts:
- There are not one, but two post credit scenes in Ant-Man. I actually missed the second one.
- Apparently, the movie is very different than the original comics.
- I’d totally be down with an Ant-Man prequel that deals with the adventures of the original Ant-Man.
- Hollywood seems to love the shortcut that women with blunt bob haircuts= no fun.
- There were a bunch of Easter Eggs in Ant-Man – including a quick reference to newly returning Spider-Man to the Marvel Universe fold, but I found this one the most interesting. You can check out a lot of the Easter Eggs here:
The fact that they were able to turn such a weird property like Ant-Man into a fun and semi-coherent movie is actually a pretty spectacular achievement in and of itself; I had prepared myself for this film to be an utter disaster, but despite its plot holes and some tonal issues I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Ant-Man. This film isn’t the crowning jewel of the Marvel universe, but it was absolutely a fun film that made me laugh and benefitted greatly from its effortlessly charming leading man. If you are willing to overlook some of the film’s flaws and just take everything at face value, you’ll have a perfectly pleasant time at the cinema. I don’t know if Ant-Man will be a one and done when it comes to standalone Marvel movies – I guess that will depend on the box office – but I do look forward to seeing the character turn up in other movies. Ant-Man is silly and a little frivolous, but that’s kind of the point. Paul Rudd and company lean-in the inherent weirdness of the source material and have a little fun with it, which I sometime wish other superhero movies were more willing to do.
Ant-Man is currently playing nationwide.