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A good thing in a small package? – Ant-Man

July 16, 2015

Ant-Man poster

One keeps wondering what the bridge too far will be for Marvel’s movie slate. While there have been some narrative clunkers put out by this relatively newfangled Hollywood titan (Age of Ultron was a rather wan successor to 2012’s transcendent Avengers), none have been that classic momentum killing disaster: the box office bomb. You kind of thought that Guardians of the Galaxy with its talking raccoons and ambulatory trees might have fit that bill, but lo and behold it was one of the biggest cinematic hits the House of Ideas has ever had. Suddenly Chris Pratt is an A-List star because of it, which is mind-boggling. Yeah, the chubby loser from Parks and Recreation.

Maybe Marvel really does have the Midas Touch when it comes to ticket receipts. Maybe they do have that coveted, mythical license to print money.

Well, we’ve come to another effort that might not tickle the audience’s fancy as others have, a potential tripwire on the road to riches. Ant-Man, ladies and gentleman. A founding Avenger, but the tiniest of the bunch. Who shrinks to the size of an ant. Who can talk to ants. Sort of like an insect Aquaman. This could be trouble.

Verdict? Ant-Man isn’t great. It’s okay. “Capable” would be a word that I’d use to describe it, with flashes of brilliance when the titular hero is shrunk down and doing his thing. But the family “drama” that undergirds the movie (the term is in quotes because what we get is barely deserving of that appellation) is the plainest of plain vanillas, and the plot is utterly predictable. But you know what, it’s a Marvel movie, it has its moments, and most members of the audience won’t feel cheated out of their hard-earned cash.

Click on through for some more detailed thoughts, including some spoilers, as well as a final rating.

  1. The central conceit here is that of your typical heist film. Someone recruits someone else to break into a heavily fortified, impossibly secure facility and steal something, things don’t go quite as planned, and improvisation becomes the name of the game. This is good in and of itself, because we’ve never really seen something like this in a superhero flick — and this is even better since we’re likely never again going to see a heist flick where ants are the principal tool in said caper. This is what saves the movie: the preposterousness of it. Unfortunately the most banal dramatic material you could ever conceive is grafted onto the core, not to mention narrative beats that can be seen coming from miles and miles (and miles) away. Much was made about Edgar Wright’s departure from this project, long his developmental baby. One is left wondering what was left of his script, what exactly his breaking point was, and what Adam McKay’s (Anchorman) and Paul Rudd’s contributions to were. Too many cooks?
  2. Rudd is just fine as Scott Lang, the burglar turned unlikely hero, but you get the feeling that his comedic talents are a bit wasted. He gets some one-liners in, though there’s nowhere near as many yucks-per-pound as there were in Guardians — perhaps a plus, as that one got a bit carried away at times. (Lang’s three erstwhile partners in crime are comedic foils, and probably get the most out of this material.) Another problem is that Lang is a bit too cuddly a character. Though the first time we see him he’s getting socked in the face in the hoosegow, great pains are taken to let us know that he’s not a violent guy, and that his biggest theft was stealing from a rich man, making him some modern day Robin Hood. You can tell that Marvel/Disney was trying to make this a family affair (though it’s hard to see how far you can go in that direction when you have bleating lambs and people turned to goop), but you find yourself wishing that there was a bit more of an edge to this guy. The character Rudd plays is one that could easily slide into anyone of his forgettable romantic comedies. This seems like a waste.
  3. Michael Douglas has always been one of the more pleasant Hollywood personalities, who’s never been afraid to settle into the background and who never has felt the need to whack you over the head with whatever political causes he supports. Maybe it has something to do with being sired by Tinseltown royalty, an assuredness born of comfort in his position. (Good old Kirk, emphasis on old, is still alive and kicking at a ripe age of 99, and can still throw down gauntlets to political candidates. He might have made a good Thunderbolt Ross, no?) Anyway, the announcement that he was going to be in this, and playing Hank Pym, a venerable Marvel character dating back to its earliest 10 cent days, was welcome news — much like having Tommy Lee Jones present and accounted for in the first Captain America movie. And this is just as much his movie as it is Rudd’s, and, thanks to FX technology, we even get to see a young Romancing the Stone era Douglas at the start of the movie. Though he looks a bit too much like Darrell Hammond in the new KFC ad campaign (or maybe it’s vice versa), he’s a welcome addition to the growing mob of characters. Not to mention a worthy mad scientist rival to the Starks. (Yes, plural.)
  4. “Tales to astonish.” And keep your ears peeled for the first MCU allusion to a certain teenage superhero.
  5. Kate from Lost is good here, though I’m not quite buying her as Ronda Rousey in a pantsuit. At least this is a better movie than those dreadful Hobbit bores she was in. And Gyp Rosetti! And the chick from Arrested Development who used to yell “Spring break!” and show her crooked boobs!
  6. The movie is, no surprise, at its best when Lang is wearing the Ant-Man suit and shrinking and leading his ant army. These sequences are as well-executed as you could possibly hope, kinetic and outlandish but always staying grounded so that you never lose track of what the hell is going on. In the world of shaky-cam, this is most welcome. The final fight with Yellow Jacket could easily have gone off the rails at any point (well, it does literally), but it never did. This stuff is a lot of fun to watch, especially a fun bit where Ant-Man squares off with an Avenger and lives to tell the tale. And speaking of Avengers, you have to look forward to this character and his abilities being added to that group, as they’ll likely play even better in a team environment. (And Rudd’s will too.)
  7. I have two big problems with this movie: it’s utterly predictable, and it doesn’t think things through. Maybe I’ve seen way to many of these things, but there wasn’t a single turn in the road that even the most simple-minded moviegoer couldn’t predict with ease. The latter sin is more unforgivable: when you’re dealing with something as fantastical as a guy shrinking, you have to keep the rest of the house in order, you know? (Some would argue that you should instead just allow every plot hole and continuity gap in willy-nilly. I say “phooey” to this kind of thinking.) Two examples: Pym initially lures Lang in with a plan that involves so many layers of rumor and hearsay and happenstance, it had a roughly 0.00000000006% chance of success. And the end result of the big heist could easily killed a whole hell of a lot of people, something left unsaid but nevertheless out there. This crap bothers me, I admit it.
  8. The big winners here? Ants. Not since 1998, which saw both A Bug’s Life and Antz, have they been so center stage. Enjoy your time in the spotlight, boys!

This movie isn’t bad. It’s quite fun in parts, dazzling even, but if, like me, you get bored with rote dramatic beats, be prepared to check your watch repeatedly. This likely won’t be the movie to break the Marvel Midas touch, but it won’t be a Guardians-like smash, either. At least it launches a classic character into this world, not to mention laying more than a little Wasp groundwork.

Two-and-a-half to three ant hills out of five.

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