‘Ant-Man,’ represents something of a new threshold in terms of how little known a superhero can be and still have the Disney branch of Marvel make a movie about it*. If ten people told you they were aware of the character prior to seeing promotion for this film, there’s a good chance that nine of them were lying. What’s more, prior to release, the most famous thing about the picture was not the character himself, but that it went through a notoriously hellish development phase, which resulted in the loss of original writer/director Edgar Wright (a brilliant auteur with an apt visual sense), who was replaced by director Peyton Reed (a competent, if unremarkable, director of romantic comedies) and writers Adam McKay (‘Anchorman’) and star Paul Rudd himself (whose only other writing credit on a movie was 2008’s ‘Role Models’). Essentially, the film lost the single best thing it had going for it, and the result is that we have a superhero movie being made by people who don’t exactly seem wonderfully qualified to be involved in one. So what’s the result?
Well, surprisingly and to the film’s credit, the end result still manages to be an amusing, fun picture that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is hard not to enjoy on a certain level. The best part about it is star Paul Rudd himself, who manages to be surprisingly charming in the lead role. He’s enjoyably likable: not cocky, not foul mouthed, not mean, not overly good–not overly anything really. He’s just kind of a decent guy, and I kind of like that. Michael Douglas also works well in the movie; mostly because he seems to be aware of how goofy it all is. Evangeline Lilly is also present here; in a slightly-less-useless capacity than her role in the Hobbit movies, so she’s slowly moving up the film latter.
In terms of the broader storytelling, for those who want a reference point, the film’s narrative strength is basically on par with ‘Jurassic World,’ which is to say it mostly works, though parts are quite ridiculous and contrived. It even shares actress Judy Greer with that film, and as almost the exact same character too: a distant, divorced mother (may she find more interesting film projects after this summer). While no action scenes really stand out in the broader context of superhero films, some of the visuals involving Ant-Man shrinking are pretty cool to see; with the final action sequence of the film being nicely inventive (I suspect these visuals are a hold-over from Wright’s involvement). And in general, there’s a nice pulpy tone about the flick that is easily appreciable.
Still, there are criticisms to be levied its way; you can definitely tell that this was a film-made-by-committee**: there are plot devices and sequences and story points that go nowhere and that exist in this film, it seems, only because some executive knew that they worked in prior movies (though it’s doubtful he or she knew why they worked); there are some very heavy handed Avengers references, with an entire scene, otherwise pointless, dedicated to a minor Avenger character, just to remind us that all these stories take place in the same Universe (as if we were in danger of forgetting that at this stage); there are some very stock ethnic stereotypes of questionable taste as Ant-Man’s side kicks/comic reliefs; the villain’s motivations are cardboard and cliché and a ripoff of better Marvel films (and better films in general); and overall the movie squanders any real emotional resonance it could have had in favor of less than stellar jokes that you likely won’t remember as you leave the theater.
I guess the main criticism I have is that this is yet another Marvel property that has more or less been shoe-horned into a general Action-Comedy framework. We’ve seen this same approach with the ‘Thor’ movies, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ and the second and third ‘Iron Man’ pictures (the only character spared, to any extent, from this in a solo series is Captain America), despite the fact that all these characters were much more vibrant and were of more diverse genres in their source material. As such I felt like we really didn’t get a chance to see a genuine ‘Ant-Man’ movie so much as a sanitized, family friendly, corporate ‘Ant-Man’; and with that in mind I can’t help but wonder about the film that might have been, had Disney’s Marvel let Edgar Wright do what he wanted on the picture instead of force him out to keep their brand identity intact.
But again, I did like it. It’s a fun Friday night picture, and everyone involved is clearly having the time of their lives with what they’re doing. In its own way, it’s kind of cool that we have a film climate in which someone like Paul Rudd can star in his own superhero movie. We likely won’t get a direct Ant-Man sequel, as Marvel made no mention of it in their huge slate announcement last Fall, and the movie probably won’t make enough money to alter that plan. But as an interesting one-off, I’m glad it got made; and for those of you who want more Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, he (and I guess Wasp***) are set to appear in ‘Captain America: Civil War’ aka ‘Avengers 2.5 sans Thor’ aka ‘Captain America V. Iron Man: Dawn of Infinity War.’
*I realize last year’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ was probably equally obscure to most people, but that film had the benefit of being a derivative of ‘Star Wars’ in a highly appealing way. The closest thing ‘Ant-Man’, as a film, is derivative of is the original ‘Iron Man,’ which doesn’t make for a great comparison.
**Evidently most of Disney’s Marvel movies are made by committee; which is supposedly one of the reasons why would-be ‘Black Panther’ director Ava DuVernay (‘Selma’) dropped out of the project. Good luck finding another director who will make that film half as interesting as she would have, Disney’s Marvel.
***Spoiler alert, I guess. Not that any of you particularly care. While I’m on the subject, ‘Ant-Man’ does have a lone Spider-Man reference, as well a post credit scene with Captain America, Falcon, and the Winter Soldier, who will most assuredly be becoming a good guy in ‘Captain America: Civil War.’