Ant-Man SPOILER-FREE Review
So while I was in the middle of watching Ant-Man in theaters, the fire alarm went off. I saw the lights and heard the alarm, but I thought it was apart of the movie. Then the screen went black and we all had to exit the building and stand out in the parking lot for fifteen minutes while fire trucks and police cars pulled up. We were later let back into the theater, but the movie didn't start up again for another fifteen minutes. The projector light was on though, and the guy behind me started doing finger puppets. It was actually pretty funny, and everyone in theater starting clapping when he did this very complex bird puppet. He was skilled. Yeah, I know that has virtually nothing to do with Ant-Man, but I thought I'd share it real quick.
Ant-Man is the latest film from Marvel Studios. In May, they released Avengers: Age of Ultron, which was my most anticipated film of 2015. However, it ultimately fell short of my expectations. You can read my review for the film here. Part of what didn't work for me with Age of Ultron was the fact that it was such a big film that character moments were lost. And it spent more time setting up future films than actually developing the one they were showing then. So with Ant-Man, I was hoping that going back to a new hero on a smaller scale would showcase Marvel's strengths. In some ways it did, and in others, it didn't work either.
Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, a convicted cat burglar who is just getting out of prison. He is living with his friends, played by Michael Peña, T.I. and David Dastmalchian. He is trying to get his life together, so he can spend time with his daughter, Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), who is living with her mother (Judy Greer) and her husband (Bobby Cannavale). But even though he is trying to stay clean, he gets into a whole new mess. Enter Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lily, who play father and daughter pair Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne. Pym's company, Pym Tech, has been taken over by the ruthless businessman Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who is trying to recreate Pym's greatest invention, the Pym Particle, which allows for organic material to shrink. Cross plans to weaponize this technology, but Pym knows what can happen if this technology gets in the wrong hands. Back in the day, Pym used this technology to be the Ant-Man, working for the U.S. government during World War II. But he has shrunk one too many times, and it will no longer work for him. In order to stop Cross, Pym must find a protege to take on the mantle of the Ant-Man. And what-do-you-know... that person is Scott Lang!
Compared to Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man is definitely a smaller scaled film. For the first twenty minutes of the movie, it solely revolves around characters and their interactions rather than any kind of superheroes or action. And that is maybe this movie's biggest strength, in that it is smaller-- focusing more on its characters than on being an action spectacle. But despite that, a lot of scenes and interactions feel very forced. The tension between Douglas and Lily feels forced rather than being natural. The tension between Douglas and Cross feels forced rather than natural. To me, it felt like there was a half a movie missing, revolving around Hank Pym, Hope van Dyne and Darren Cross. They jumped right in the middle of their story. While this is good for many films, we don't need to see every little thing, it ultimately hinders these characters' interactions for me. Because the film jumped right into their story, all their dialogue was filled with exposition for most of the movie. They wanted to hammer in the point that Hope and Hank were estranged. They wanted to hammer in the point that Hank was Darren's mentor and they grew apart. And I think either starting their story in a different place or showing more of their past on screen would have been more effective, rather than having these characters spoon-feed their whole past to the audience. All this exposition made it hard for me to buy into these characters when they do have real moments together, because all I know about their past is what they've dropped in their dialogue.
And maybe it's the fact that the relationships between these characters are really cliched that I had a hard time buying into them. How many times have we seen the scientist and his mentor grow apart because the scientist wants to use the discovery for evil? How many times have we seen the parent and the child estranged because the parent is keeping a secret from the child? These are all things we have seen so many times before, to the point that it didn't really feel fresh.
But even though character moments felt forced and I had a hard time buying into characters because their only development was through exposition, the acting in this movie is fantastic. Douglas, Lily and Rudd are all fantastic in this movie. I was worried that Douglas might just phone it in for this one. He is world-class talent, and I was afraid he was just doing this for the paycheck. But he was excellent in the film, and was, for me, the stand-out. Rudd showed that he has some really good dramatic talent, but he wasn't the focus of the film. Douglas was. And that was a bit off-putting to me. The mission of the movie was important to Douglas. Douglas was featured more in the movie. It all revolved around him, while Rudd was more in the film for the action. Something else that bothered me a bit was the comedy. With Adam McKay and Rudd writing this film, I was expecting this to be the funniest Marvel movie to date. But in reality, it's not. It's not overly funny at all. I had heard great things about Peña being the best part of the film, and he really isn't. His character is comedic relief, but he doesn't steal the show at all.
What was the most questionable part of the movie going in, and what worked most for me, was the shrinking. I mean, look at the character of Ant-Man. He's not the most compelling character Marvel has. And I wasn't sold on how being able to shrink would be good in battle. But the action scenes in this movie sold me on it. The visual look of Ant-Man being shrunken, and seeing things from his perspective were executed perfectly. The filmmakers created a new visual way of portraying the shrinking, called macro photography. And this was used brilliantly in the movie. What was also great was how Ant-Man used his shrinking in fights. Being able to shrink, sneak around and then grow to throw a punch-- it was moves like this that worked perfectly in the film. So for me, the best part of the movie was the use of shrinking, how it looked visually and how they used it in Ant-Man's fights.
I also thought the movie handled the idea of talking to ants really well. I mean, before seeing the film, you have to admit: it's a pretty stupid concept. Talking to ants. Come on. But the way it's used in the movie works great. They introduced several different species of ants that all had their own special skill in helping Ant-Man on his mission. And this aspect of the movie was handled very well. The other thing that worked really well for me was the heist feel of the film. Because this is a heist movie, and it was great. With the surplus of comic book movies these days, we need something new and invigorating. And Marvel has been doing is they infuse other genres into their films. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a political thriller. Guardians of the Galaxy was a space opera. Ant-Man was a heist film. And seeing Scott Lang map out his plan, train in the suit and assemble (no pun intended) his team for the heist was great to watch.
I also have to say that I was impressed with how diverse this film was. Even though the main characters were white, there was a huge Latino presence in the film. The neighborhood where Scott moved into had a lot of Latino people, and it was refreshing to see that change in ethnicity in this film. It's something that Marvel has said they are trying to improve upon, and this was a great start to that in my opinion. And I will say that a scene between Ant-Man and a certain Avenger was probably my favorite part of the film.
My other big problem with the movie, however, was the villain. I really like Corey Stoll as an actor. He's great in his television show The Strain. So I was really excited to see him in this movie. But Ant-Man did what a lot of Marvel films have done wrong, which is they make the villain an afterthought. The character of Darren Cross suffered from the same thing that Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne did, which his only development was through exposition, where he explained that Pym was his mentor and that he hates him, but we're never really shown any of this. In many ways, Cross was a cheesy villain. He's not a three-dimensional villain, but rather just an evil, powerful guy. Part of that was the writing, but Stoll also played him that way, which bothered me. He played Cross borderline hammy and over-the-top. He never took it there fully, but he was close. And since I really like Stoll as an actor, that was disappointing.
And when we finally see Cross become the Yellow Jacket, he's ultimately wasted, because it's for the final fifteen minutes of the movie. The costume looks fantastic, and I loved the look of Yellow Jacket. His weapons and being able to shrink as well made for some really cool action scenes, but he just wasn't a good villain in the long run. During the fight scenes, Yellow Jacket had some of the worst villain dialogue, saying to Ant-Man "I'm going to show you exactly why you are so insignificant!" and "You think you can stop the future?". It just didn't work very well. So while Yellow Jacket was good just for a couple fight scenes, he didn't work well on screen.
So here's what it ultimately comes down to. The fact that they went for a smaller, more personable film was great. There were some hints to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, but was its own thing, which worked really well. All the actors did a great job in their roles, and the visual look of the shrinking was spectacular. The movie did a good job of making you buy into how shrinking was effective in a fight, and the idea of him being able to communicate to ants. The fact that the movie was a heist film also really worked, and made it fun and exciting. However, the writers decided to use exposition in the dialogue to explain the past and the current relationships between Hank Pym, Hope van Dyne and Darren Cross, which left the characters kind of underdeveloped and hard to buy into. Paul Rudd was also kind of moved off to the side in favor of Douglas. Corey Stoll was also disappointing as the villain, as the character was written and played kind of cheesily, and was never a really formidable threat. The comedy was also a bit disappointing, as I expected it to be hysterical when it was only funny at times. There was never any stand-out jokes or ones that I'll really remember three months from now.
Like I said before: Ant-Man does a lot of things right and a lot of things wrong. But ultimately, it's a fun and entertaining movie. How does it compare to the other Marvel films? It's not in the top 5, but it's better than some of their other ones. I liked it more than Age of Ultron, but it's not at all on the same level as The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Where it falls exactly I'm not sure yet. I'll have to see it a few more times. If you're looking for a good time, this is a movie to see. But don't walk in expecting it to be the next big film (or even the next big Marvel film), because it really isn't.
What do you think? Did you see Ant-Man? Did you like it? Leave your (spoiler-free) review in the comments section below.
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