WARNING: spoilers yada yada yada.
For the past few years, I have fiercely defended Ant-Man to everybody. Young adults are always quite stubborn and ignorant, so upon hearing the name people immediately jump to conclusions. “Ant-Man? Pfft, that’s so lame. Why would you want to be able to turn into an ant?” “Marvel are really running out of ideas.” “That’s so stupid.” “Shrinking is boring.” These are just a small selection of responses I have received for many years. The selling point for most of them was “the guy who did Hot Fuzz is doing it,” but after Edgar Wright departed the project last May I couldn’t even use that. You need only think for a few minutes at all of the things you could do if you could shrink. You could break into anywhere you wanted just by walking through the keyhole. You could walk into and rewire a computer with your own hands, potentially toppling global security. You can beat up anybody without them seeing you. You can spy on hot people in the shower. You could even, if you were feeling particularly brutal, climb inside somebody’s body and tear them up from the inside, or worse – enlarge while you’re inside. And those are just the applications for one user. Imagine how it could influence warfare, architecture, transport and even things like shopping.
The point is, Ant-Man is a cool superhero. It’s very fortunate that this movie properly represented that and it’s also fortunate that it’s even somewhat good. Despite this, the film is also one which simply ‘exists’ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is, by-and-large, forgettable.
It’s no secret that Ant-Man has had a troubled production. It kept getting delayed time and time again at the behest of Edgar Wright, meaning that the character couldn’t appear in the Avengers movies, and then he ended up abruptly leaving anyway, rendering the long waiting time pointless. Marvel scrambled to find another director and found a guy in Peyton Reed, as well as a new writer in Adam McKay. Fans weren’t too pleased, to say the least. Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim and The World’s End didn’t exactly set the box office on fire but they are all great, great movies, loaded with visual flair and their own identities. At the very least, Ant-Man under Wright’s direction would have been unique. This is a guy who clearly cares about all aspects of filmmaking very much, which is why I’m surprised nobody saw the split between he and the micromanaging Marvel Studios coming sooner. The tale goes that Wright wanted this to be a very self-contained film but the higher-ups wanted more involvement from the wider universe. I can see both sides of the argument but his departure led to a lesser product overall.
A major problem with the film is that there isn’t an awful lot in it which separates it from other comedies or blockbusters. The camerawork is pretty generic, the characters are pretty generic, the plot is pretty generic – it’s a lot of ‘been there, done that’. That isn’t to say it’s bad. There are lots of good qualities to it which we have simply seen done a thousand times over and aren’t brought to their full potential. The movie is really about family, and not just the biological term. It’s about the troubled father/daughter relationship between Hope van Dyne and Hank Pym, Darren Cross’ mentor/student dynamic with Pym, and Scott Lang’s estranged relationship with his young daughter. It’s this last one which is the crux of the movie and Paul Rudd did an excellent job of communicating his love for Cassie Lang to the audience which added a ton of heart to the film. It’s something which was good, but it felt very samey.
The same can be said for a lot of the aspects. Darren Cross could have been ripped straight out of an Iron Man movie, and while I didn’t think he was as bad a villain as people have been making out (unlike Malekith, Cross actually had motivations and a personality) he still isn’t overly memorable. Corey Stoll did a good job with what he had and successfully made me want to punch him in the face – lucky Michael Douglas – but I know that he can do better. See: House of Cards Season 1. While the main reason he is doing all of his evil shenanigans (even if he doesn’t realise it) is to prove himself to Hank, the emphasis instead went to Cross being evil and doing evil things like selling the Yellowjacket suit to HYDRA. The other huge issue in the movie is that important themes aren’t played up enough. Hope and Cross are Pym’s kids, even though only one of them is biological, and it’s really his fault that they turn out the way they are. A realisation of that from the guy would have naturally led to giving Hope the classic Wasp outfit, but instead the film skips that realisation and goes straight to a happy ending. It feels forced and cheap, and if they had just included one scene of Hank realising that this is his fault and some more dialogue between he and Cross then it would have been a few notches better.
Scenes such as the dinner date between Cross and Hope and even Pym’s confession of what really happened to Janet felt very random, which in the case of the latter ultimately cheapened its impact. It’s stuff like this where you can really tell that it was written over a few days in a hotel room, but for the most part it was pretty good. Although, the most shoehorned, out-of-place and irritating scene for me had to be the fight with Falcon at Avengers HQ. It was unnecessary. It added nothing to the movie other than reminding people that these other characters still exist, which nobody needs doing. It’s been said in interviews that this was Rudd and McKay’s idea but I wouldn’t be too shocked if this, or at least something similar to it, was one of the “creative differences” which led to Wright’s departure. If that is the case then I’m certainly on his side. Sure, it was fun fan-service and they needed to get the thingy to put in the suit or whatever but there was nothing which meant it had to be there.
Another thing I found weird was Hope’s portrayal. Not only do McKay and Rudd repeatedly explain to the audience that she is far more qualified, able and knowledgeable than Lang regarding shrinking down to miniature size, but they also don’t add anything to Scott to make him more qualified or able or knowledgeable than her. She didn’t really do anything to earn her father’s approval in the mid-credits sequence and the plan probably would have gone off a lot smoother if it was Hope as the Wasp doing it rather than Lang as Ant-Man. The reasons why she isn’t the lead is because he wore the suit in the comics and because Marvel didn’t want to center a big film around a character as little-known as Hope van Dyne – especially because she’s female. Realistically she was never going to be the lead in this movie purely because of Hollywood politics and comics lore, which is why more needed to be done to make Scott Lang special other than ‘I want to see my daughter,’ which is obviously a powerful and resonating motivator but it doesn’t make him better for the job than her. What I would have liked to see is Hope actually taking initiative and going against Hank by stealing the Wasp suit (mirroring her with Scott) and teaming up with him in the final act, giving us a modern Ant-Man and Wasp duo. At least then they would be co-leads – just don’t throw in an attraction between them like they did in the actual film. I think the kissing scene at the end truly re-defined the term “forced romance”.
However, the biggest problem for me wasn’t any of that – it was something which likely still would have existed had Wright stayed on, as it came straight from his script. The thing is, Hank Pym should have been the lead.
If you look back the majority of the movie revolves around Pym. The heart of the film is Scott and his daughter but the plot is dictated by Darren Cross’ desire for approval from Pym as well as Hope’s desire to prove herself to him. These are two major relationships which probably would have been enough without the whole Lang business, however if Hank was the lead then it would have had to be a prequel movie, in which case Hope would still be a child. Scott said it himself: he’s expendable, and he has nothing to do with this mission or the development of any of these major characters. Of course, not all superhero movies have to have a plot where all the characters are connected to the hero but it was still something which bugged me. On top of that, Pym is a more interesting character and the film could have had a fun 60’s tone with plenty of stuff on SHIELD’s early days as well as effectively giving us our first real superhero couple in Hank and Janet while exploring what their lives are like as secret superheroes. I think there was a much more interesting film to be made with those characters rather than in the present with Scott Lang.
I’ve talked a lot about the negatives – what worked? What was good? Fortunately, there were a lot of good qualities to Ant-Man. While the film lacks a lot of identity the shrinking scenes were something unique and excellent, especially the first bathtub scene. I think Reed and co managed to truly master the art of macrophotography there since it did feel as if you were shrinking with Scott, and it was cool to see how he interacted with all of the normal everyday objects. I hope the Russo Bros. keep it up next summer in Civil War.
Pretty much every review has said this but Michael Peña really did steal the show. His impeccable comedic timing in every scene he was in really brought the whole thing to life – I especially liked his ‘tip’ scenes and thought those were quite inventive. His jokes were hilarious and his fast-talking was surprisingly comprehensible; while he was a crook, he was a sweet, adorable, lovable crook. He really did outshine the rest of Scott’s crew (but they were all good as well). I really hope we get to see some more of him in the future.
Another staple of every review had been the praising of the quantum-verse. I’m still not entirely sure what it was – magic? Sci-fi? Hinting at something for the future of the MCU? It was weird and wacky and I loved it. There was a strong feeling of claustrophobia about the place, even though it was open and empty. How do you eat? Time and space don’t exist, so what do you do? The place would drive you insane after five minutes and you really do get that impression. Poor Janet has been stuck there since the 1980’s – and she might still be alive.
Like I said at the beginning, Marvel succeeded at making Ant-Man cool, which is something a lot of people wouldn’t have ever believed. It’s a difficult job as a ton of people are still turning their noses up at the character – out of ignorance, mainly – without really considering how cool the character can be. I think if they at least watched a clip of the bathtub sequence or the fight near the end at PymTech (where he runs up the gun) then their minds would be swiftly changed. It takes a special kind of director to be able to shift public perception of this character and Marvel actually did it, which is great. The action was slick and fun, which is what it really needed to be.
I didn’t expect myself to be excited to see Evangeline Lilly in action as the Wasp. She was a very tough-as-nails character in this movie which served to contrast with Lang’s comedic nature, but I’m pretty sure it’ll get dull after a while if she’s supposed to be portraying a fun superhero. Marvel tend to be good with sticking to established character personalities so it’ll be interesting to see how (and if) she develops into that. I’ve liked Lilly way back from the start when she was simply known as ‘Kate from Lost,’ and even now that’s her official name to me.
Overall, Ant-Man is a good film that feels trapped under all of its behind-the-scenes burdens. As the title says, there is a good movie in there somewhere, it’s just buried. There are a ton of excellent aspects to it which unfortunately don’t get a proper chance to breathe and develop. Perhaps had it had a longer turnaround time – or Wright had stayed – then we would have had a better movie. However, that’s very subjective in this case. We know from interviews that the extent of Janet van Dyne’s role in the original script equated to one line – imagine how the fans would have reacted to that? From what it seems, Wright would have made an excellent standalone movie that maybe wouldn’t have pleased the hardcore fans too much (a la Iron Man 3), but instead we got a movie that had a lot of fanservice and wasn’t as good as it could have been.
We’ll never know what could have been, and it’s unfortunate that Ant-Man won’t be standing in the pantheon of great Marvel films. Instead it will be a little off to the side, hanging with The Incredible Hulk and Thor: The Dark World – an unfortunate position to hold and one I don’t think it really deserves. Perhaps Ant-Man 2 will improve.