‘Ant-Man’ Review: A Small Victory


Movie Rating:


After Edgar Wright quit ‘Ant-Man’ a few weeks before filming, the internet kicked up a big fuss. The news immediately transformed an exciting take on an obscure Marvel property into a controversial project that most nerds assumed would be the beginning of the end for the studios’ superhero blockbuster dominance. Now that the film is actually here, the good news is that it’s an absolute blast.

Paul Rudd stars as Scott Lang, a charmingly likable doofus in the Paul Rudd mode. He’s a robber by trade and really good at it, but he’s determined to turn his life around and go straight despite rooming with his criminal buddy Luis (Michael Peña) who has “goodhearted bad influence” written all over him. When an unfortunate attempt to take a job at Baskin Robbins quickly falls apart, Lang agrees to help Luis and his gang pull off a suburban robbery. Everything goes well except for the fact that the secret underground safe doesn’t contain a vast fortune, but some sort of strange suit that looks suspiciously like a superhero costume.

It turns out that Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym set the whole thing up as a sting operation/audition. You see, the suit is something special he designed years ago that transforms the wearer into a tiny super-powered crimefighter that can control ants (don’t ask). His shrinking technology is about to be adapted by the dastardly Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), and he needs someone to break into his old company and steal it back before it falls into the hands of HYDRA. Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who’s jealous that she won’t be wearing the suit herself, train Lang to become the Ant-Man for a big ol’ heist.

So… yeah, it’s a superhero origin story, which we’ve all seen far too many times before, but also a superhero heist movie, which hasn’t really been done before. (Screw you, ‘Suicide Squad’! You’re too late!) That combination of the overly familiar and the pleasantly surprising kind of defines the movie as a whole, which rapidly slingshots from feeling like a funny and fresh spin on Marvel formulas as well as yet another trip down the well.

The best aspect of the film is likely Rudd, whose combination of leading man charm with comic self-doubt works perfectly for the first Marvel hero with a significant self-esteem problem. (The Hulk doesn’t count because he’s pretty confident when he gets all “big green meanie.”) Given that the generally funny Marvel Universe doesn’t have an overtly comedic hero beyond the one-man sarcasm factory that is Robert Downey, Jr., Rudd should fit in quite nicely.

Surrounding him, Douglas grounds the story like an old Hollywood pro, much as Robert Redford did in ‘The Winter Soldier’ last year. Lilly serves up plenty of spunk and spark, and provides a nice little love story that never goes too far. Peña almost steals the entire movie away as a delightfully dumb sidekick. Only Stoll feels like a weak link, but not so much through any fault of his own as much as his underwritten character feels tacked-on by the Frankensteined screenplay.

Therein lies the biggest problem with ‘Ant-Man’, which anyone paying attention to the behind-the-scenes struggles last year could have spotted from a mile away. The issues that led to Wright walking out right before production were all related to script tampering by the studio, and this movie sure bears the marks of that. The humor hops back and forth from the fast-paced visual and verbal punnery of Wright to the slacker improv style of Rudd and his writing partner Adam McKay in a ways that often feel awkward. Likewise, some subplots are underdeveloped, like Lang’s broken family life or the somewhat confusing motives of the villain. For the most part, the consistent laugh rate, thrilling set-pieces in miniature, and forward momentum of the heist plot keep things pumping fast enough to push aside those problems. However, as the movie stumbles toward setting up its big action climax, a mishmash of tones, disconnected plot threads and awkward tie-ins to upcoming Marvel projects almost completely derail the whole movie.

Thankfully, it all comes together for one of the most satisfying climaxes in a Marvel movie to date. While director Peyton Reed might have faced an unenviable task in replacing Comic-Con hero Edgar Wright at the 11th hour and having to cobble together various versions of the script during production, he nailed the thrilling tiny spectacle. After a surprisingly patient 40 minutes of character and world-building, the first shrinking action scene shoves the hero down a drain and onto a spinning record for some genuinely magical comic book spectacle. By the time Ant-Man fights off the villain on a miniature trainset in a suburban bedroom, it’s clear that this character offers exciting new possibilities to the Marvel Cinematic Universe beyond the usual CGI threats from above. In fact, the combination mini-action with genuinely hilarious character comedy is so strong that it’s easy to ignore the moments that fall flat or the unfortunate white-washing of the backstory between Hank Pym and his wife that would have made for a far more compelling and disturbing third act twist, which certainly seems like it was part of this movie at one point.

It’s hard to watch ‘Ant-Man’ without pointing to sequences (like a Thomas the Tank Engine toy action scene) that clearly came from Edgar Wright and imagining that all of the movie’s failings might have disappeared in favor of more visual invention with him in charge. However, that’s a dangerous game to play. Until someone leaks his original screenplay, there’s no way of telling exactly what ‘Ant-Man’ could have been. All we can do is appreciate the ‘Ant-Man’ we got. Thankfully, it’s one of the most breezily entertaining Marvel movies to date, if not one of the best.

In fact, the movie works so well that it’s a little annoying to walk out of the theater knowing that a sequel that could smooth over all these problems isn’t part of the studio’s plan for the immediate future. Still, at least it’s a relief that the project didn’t devolve into disaster like so many bloggers feared. ‘Ant-Man’ is far better than anyone could have imagined a movie based on the obscure comic book character would be. This is ultimately another victory for Marvel. Given all the pitfalls faced by the production, it’s also confirmation of the continued strength of the studio rather than a sign of its imminent demise.

What Did You Think of 'Ant-Man'?

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  1. “However, as the movie stumbles toward setting up its big action climax, a mishmash of tones, disconnected plot threads and awkward tie-ins to upcoming Marvel projects almost completely derail the whole movie.”

    So we say this, but then go on to say it’s one of the most entertaining and maybe best marvel movies to date? That first thing you said really makes it sound like it’s not, its great the ending saved things but you cant discount all of that in getting to that ending. Which certainly can’t make it one of the best marvel movies to date.

    I haven’t seen this one yet and honestly I’m not sure I’m going to, its the first Marvel movie I might actually skip because it feels like old hat from the trailers and so far, nothing has topped Winter Soldier except for Guardians and I don’t see Ant Man coming close to those two, especially after that first line of stuff you said

    • Phil Brown

      Well, what I was talking about that went wrong only amounted to a few minutes of screen time and I don’t think that any Marvel movie so far has been absolutely perfect. Honestly, Ant-Man is a good time and if you have any interest in going, you really should. I agree that the trailers were a bit rough, but the movie is actually a ton o’ fun.

    • Does each new Marvel movie really need to top the last one, and everything that came before? A cycle like that is impossible to maintain, and is why Marvel has fallen into a rut where every movie keeps getting piled on with bigger and bigger apocalyptic stakes until the difference between one world-ending threat is indistinguishable from the last world-ending threat. “Aliens tried to destroy the world in The Avengers? Yeah, well now ROBOTS are trying to destroy the world in Avengers 2!”

      In a wide-ranging project like the MCU, I think there ought to be room for smaller adventures and personal stories. That was Edgar Wright’s original plan for Ant-Man, until Marvel took it away from him and shoehorned in tons of other MCU tie-ins.

      • Timcharger

        “A cycle like that is impossible to maintain, and is why Marvel has fallen into a rut where every movie keeps getting piled on with bigger and bigger apocalyptic stakes until the difference between one world-ending threat is indistinguishable from the last world-ending threat.”

        And the world-ending-threat plots will keep begging the question,
        why doesn’t single hero dude in his own movie just call in his
        buddies to help defeat the gigantic threat.

        The single hero titles should have more personal stories and
        smaller threats. That will help explain why didn’t so-and-so just
        show up and save the day.

        • Timcharger

          This line:
          “The single hero titles should have more personal stories and smaller threats.”
          is like a Jerry Maguire moment.

          Some executive at Marvel can’t sleep and writes this mission statement,
          and blast e-mails the whole executive team. In the morning, everyone
          gives him the thumbs up. More personal, smaller adventures; they say.
          In the afternoon, that executive is fired.

          Edgar Wright is Jerry Maguire.

        • Ant-Man actually addresses this early on when Paul Rudd says “I think the first thing we need to do is call the Avengers” but Michael Douglas pooh-poohs him.

  2. I’ll just say that I’m tired of Marvel, tired of the pop-culture aspect of it, sick of the sameness of them all. I only watched Avengers 2 for Robert Downey Jr and Jeremy Renner who made the movie for me. The rest could have been tossed out but I find Renner to be a fantastic actor who is underrated at times and Downey Jr is Downey Jr…he makes Iron Man watchable for me.

  3. Had an unexpected babysitting offer tonight. Took advantage of that to see Ant-Man. Opening day, 9:40 PM showing, theater was virtually empty. Probably not a good sign.

    I thought the movie was lots of fun. Sure, the shoehorned MCU stuff was annoying (there’s no reason at all for Anthony Mackie to be in this movie), but Rudd is great and the action scenes are fantastic, especially the climax. I liked it a lot.

    • Phil

      It definitely wins the “Best Use Of Thomas The Tank Engine” award for 2015. I know it’s early, but I’m calling it.

  4. Just saw a 3D screening of Ant-Man and it exceeded my expectations. It was very funny and i think the jokes stuck better than Guardians. The audience I watched it with seem to enjoy it as well. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Michael Douglas as much as I did. I was really impressed with the rejuvenation effects they used on him in the prologue.

  5. I had a great time watching ‘Ant-Man,’ but completely forgot about it once I walked away from the theater (perhaps due to that awesome ‘Civil War’ post-credits stinger). The best parts were the bits that were obviously written by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish. The weakest bits were those that forced it into the MCU. I have a feeling that I’d have LOVED the Wright/Cornish version. If only.

  6. cardpetree

    Movie was awesome and much better than I expected. Ant-Man was easily better than Age of Ultron. I do wish Marvel would not make every movie about saving the end of the world though. Somebody needs to get on that ASAP. No need for the consequences of failing be so dramatic for every single hero.

  7. I thought it was just ‘meh’. There’s an obviously excellent Edgar Wright movie buried in the mediocre material. Good performances by the cast, though, and the The Cure joke was golden.

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