REVIEW: “Ant-Man”

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Marvel’s cinematic universe has become a powerful presense at the box office. This has allowed Marvel Studios (and owner Disney) to branch out into what could be more obscure territories for moviegoers other than comic book fans. We saw it first in the insanely successful “Guardians of the Galaxy” – a film about a fringe group of characters within Marvel’s comic book mythology. “Guardians” was a decent film that struck a major chord with audiences grossing over $750 million. “Ant-Man” falls into a similar category – a Marvel character lesser known to the masses brought to the big screen on the backs of the other films and their successes.

One of my big questions going in was whether or not this character and story was worthy of the big screen solo treatment or is this simply Marvel showing off their powerful box office muscles? That is a tough question to answer especially considering Marvel took an insane amount of liberties with the source material. The story we end up with only features snippets of content and characters from the comics. Taking liberties and telling a unique story isn’t a bad thing. But with “Ant-Man” I left the theater thinking that the better story was the one left behind in the comics – the one Marvel chose not to tell.

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“Ant-Man” had its share of development problems mainly in the form of writer and director Edgar Wright’s departure. A number of other directors turned down offers to helm the film until Peyton Reed eventually took the reins. Perhaps this contributes to the film’s shaky foundation and overall lack of identity. There are times when “Ant-Man” feels fresh and a bit experimental within its genre, but it never sees these things through. Instead it embraces some of the same cliches and story contraptions that we have seen numerous times.

Funny man Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, a smart man with a good heart who sometimes makes dumb decisions. We first meet him as he is being released from prison after serving a sentence for a non-violent burglary. His incarceration has driven a deeper wedge between him and his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer). She refuses to allow him to see their daughter Cassie until he gets his life together. This is tough pill for Scott to swallow especially considering how Cassie idolizes her father.

Now enter Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who the movie has as a physicist who lost control of his company to an ambitious former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Since gaining control of Pym Industries, Cross has been trying to replicate Pym’s shrinking technology. But knowing the dangers of the formula in the wrong hands, Pym refuses to give it up causing all sorts of animosity between him and Cross. After Cross’ nefarious intent is revealed, Pym and his estranged daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) recruit Scott to help them stop Cross before he can unleash his evil plans.

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“Ant-Man” is definitely a mixed bag but its strong points are obvious. First, the story plays out on a much smaller scale which is something I appreciated. Yes, there are serious worldwide implications, but this is a superhero story which fits nicely within its smaller group of characters. There is no impending global doom or ominous cataclysmic event. In fact portions of the film play out like a corporate thriller while other portions play out like a heist film. I liked these elements and I was surprised by them. I was also surprised by how well Rudd fit into the character. The writing doesn’t always help him out, but overall he is good. I particularly liked Corey Stoll who managed to make a pretty one-dimensional character entertaining.

I also enjoyed the special effects which bounce back and forth between action-packed and playfully silly. In fact, some of the film’s best humor can be found in some of the visual effects sequences. It’s also worth noting that while the film is loaded with CGI, it’s not your standard big explosions and massive devastation. We get some of that but overall the effects serve different purposes which was refreshing. There is also a cool cameo and several other neat references which ground the film in Marvel’s greater cinematic universe.

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Unfortunately the movie’s strong points can’t overcome its problems. With all of the things the story does differently early on, ultimately it devolves into your standard, cliché-ridden fare. The redemption angle and typical origin story felt way too familiar and predictable. I also wasn’t blown away by its hit-or-miss humor. There were times when the movie is funny (Michael Pena is cast for no other purpose but to be a constant joke). Other times the humor fell flat and didn’t feel the slightest bit original. And perhaps my biggest issue was with the villain. On several occasions Marvel has struggled to give us an intense, engaging villain. Just look at “Guardians” for a glaring example. Darren Cross is pretty terrible. Now matter how good Corey Stoll is, his character’s actions simply don’t match his motivations. He is so poorly developed and we are basically given a few small lines of dialogue that are supposed to explain his reasoning. It just doesn’t work.

“Ant-Man” is an easy movie to digest. It dabbles in promising areas and has its share of fun scenes and cool visual effects. But it also squanders a lot of its potential by traveling down well-worn and overused paths. In the end this isn’t a Marvel film that I’ll find myself visiting again and it makes me skeptical of how they will use these characters in the future. I guess this is a case where I simply can’t shake the comic book fanboy within me. I still feel an Ant-Man film focused on a young Hank Pym and his wife Janet would be much better and more interesting than what we get here. But I guess we will never know.

VERDICT – 3 STARS

3 Stars

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20 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Ant-Man”

  1. I couldn’t be in agreement more about Darren Cross/Yellow Jacket. Coming in with no knowledge of the comic or its place in this universe, even I found his outing here somewhat wasted. Looking it through the eyes of someone who wants some kind of conflict, I never found conflict in Ant Man. But I did find a lot of entertainment. That’s mostly chalked up to my love of Paul Rudd, and Michael Douglas/Evangeline Lilly shared good chemistry I thought. But I will concede this film was a good batch of cliches. Glad to have seen you did take a chance on this in theaters all the same, bud.

    • I’m glad I went to see it. It certainly did some things that surprised me. I so wanted it to follow them through. Pym is such a great character in the comics. His marriage with Janet was difficult and stressful mainly due to his deteriorating mental condition. Still he was a sympathetic character. That story may be too heavy for what Marvel wants from the film. I would still love to see it.

      • I would imagine, given the way the story trends re: the possibility of traveling to quantum level, the possible sequel(s) might delve into that a bit more. Who knows though. Marvel has a habit of rounding things off neatly for sure.

      • True. But in the cinema universe they have Hank waaay to old. And Yellowjacket was one of his personas that resulted from his mental breakdown and schizophrenia, not a suit. But as you say, who knows where the sequels will go.

      • Really wish I had some knowledge of the comic going in! This sounds like it is a great read, even if the movie experience doesn’t do it justice.

  2. Hi Keith, I think we share the same problems we had about the movie. The humour and yellowjacket didn’t do it for me either. And I also wish they would do young Hank Pym and Janet as well. But Disney seems to think his story with him abusing Janet isn’t too child friendly.

    Great review 🙂

    • I think you’re right. I was just talking to Tom about this in the comments section. Hank and Janet’s story is so much more intriguing and rich. But it’s definitely heavier subject matter which may not serve Disney’s purposes. I understand it but its a shame.

      Thanks so much for reading and taking time to comment.

  3. I saw this yesterday and pretty much agree with your sentiments. Some good things going for it but it simply slots in too easily with the Marvel look, tone and story formula. I’d have loved to have seen an Edgar Wright Ant-Man.

    • I’m not a big fan of Wright but I can’t help thinking that losing him contributed to the film’s inconsistencies. I still believe a better story was left behind in the comics.

      • I’m in the ‘not familiar with the character beforehand’ camp, but I do remember Wasp from the Avengers comics I used to read. What was the story you had in mind?

      • Well thinking on it, it probably wouldn’t fit with what Marvel is going for. It’s pretty weighty subject matter. Hank Pym was actually the original and most compelling Ant-Man. He is much younger and Wasp is his wife, Janet van Dyne. They were both Avengers and had a tumultuous marriage due to Hank’s mental deterioration. Schizophrenia and personality disorders led to Hank also appearing as Yellowjacket (it wasn’t just a suit). Hank was a good man but his mental decline took them down dark roads including mental and physical abuse. It added a real compelling element to The Avengers as well. As I said, probably not what Marvel wants.

      • That sounds far more interesting, but absolutely not what Marvel would want in terms of their film business, I agree!

  4. i’ve never read the comics, and it sounds like the story there gives a lot more to the Ant-Man character, which I found sort of bland.
    The first third was tough for me to get through, but I too liked the movie’s self-containment, unique action (probably enjoyed it more than AOU), and the humor for the most part. But I am not exactly clamoring for another entry.

    • It was slow out of the gate and I felt we were going through yet another run-of-the-mill origin story. I’m kinda tired of those. And overall I felt this was pretty lightweight. Definitely had fun moments though. Just wanted more.

  5. Hi Keith, glad you gave this movie a shot anyway. I gave it a higher rating but I can see where you’re coming from. I wasn’t sure if the character was ‘worthy of the big screen solo treatment’ as you put it, but in the end I was entertained by it. At the same time, I’m really getting tired of Marvel superhero movies, the only one I’m anticipating is Captain America: Civil War and that’s it.

    • Oooooh Civil War is so high on my anticipated movie list! We both loved Winter Soldier so in with you about Civil War. Speaking of that, what did you think of the second post credits scene in Ant-Man? 😉

      • Yep! I don’t want to spoil it for anyone but it seems to reveal a bit about the structure of the Civil War angle. Excited!!!!

  6. Went to see this last night and while I can agree with your criticism on a lot of cliches and things which could have worked better, I still had a fun time seeing it on the big screen. Loved Pena in this film, he was very funny.

    • I liked it overall but left disappointed. I found Pena to be hit-or-miss. Some of his stuff was pretty funny. I thought other things landed with a thud. Not really his fault. More to do with the material IMO.

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