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Thursday, July 16, 2015

‘Ant-Man’ Is A Shining Example Of The Marvel Formula For Better Or Worse (Movie Review)

Ant-Man: 3 ½ out of 5

With Avengers: Age of Ultron serving as the epic climax to Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man is now here to supply the much smaller-scale epilogue. Yes, it is silly to describe these films as pieces in a grand puzzle, but it is also commendable that Marvel Studios has been able to craft such a unique series of films that are all interconnected to varying degrees. With Ant-Man, which has been in production for some time, it seems clear that the world of Marvel is only of so much interest to these characters and storylines. As a result, it does standout, but even with its own identity, the few steps taken to make this a unique superhero in a cinematic world and reality full of them are merely enough to make it decent-sized fun.


Paul Rudd stars as Scott Lang, an ex-con looking to change his life, after being released from prison. Lang was a cat burglar and despite his efforts to stay away from that life, he winds up breaking into a house to steal some stuff. It turns out this stuff is a suit that gives him the power to shrink down the size of an ant. In all actuality, this was no accident. Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) needs Lang to help him in a mission to save a lot of lives.

As this is a Marvel film, there are more details, characters, and pieces of universe to go with all the astonishing tales of this Ant-Man character, but what it really boils down to is that of a heist film. Yes, as Marvel has been making the efforts to apply various genre templates to their movies (Winter Soldier = spy thriller, Guardians of the Galaxy = space opera, etc.), the idea for Ant-Man was to construct a fun heist movie in the vein of Ocean’s Eleven. It is a neat approach that also makes this film their lightest effort since the first Thor. With that however, this is also the most average effort from Marvel since Thor.


To be clear, it is not as if I need every Marvel film to be an action spectacular complete with giant battles and insane stakes every time out. With that in mind, the level of comedy and engagement with the characters largely rides on how much you like seeing Rudd, Douglas, and the supporting cast hanging around for a majority of the time. The first two acts of this film really do put a lot of work in to establish everyone, but aside from watching many of them interact in ways that are enjoyable enough, there is no real depth here.

Of all the Marvel films, this has to be the thinnest in terms of character and thematic depth. Scott Lang enters this film and exits the same, but now with a suit and a drive to use it to help out in whatever way he can. Hank Pym is the character that gets more to do, which is basically pass the torch down to another. As far as what this film has to say about anything, there’s not much. This really is a “good guys need to stop the bad guys” movie, with little to complicate that beyond various turns in the plot.


I have mentioned the supporting cast and they are mostly fine. Evangeline Lilly gets even less to do here than in the last Hobbit movie, but at least she seems to fit in. Corey Stoll is as good as he can be, even if the film seems to forget to use him more, after some solid setup work. Bobby Canavale is reliable enough as well, though there is little for his character to offer. The real scene-stealer is Michael Pena, which is not the first time that has been the case. He plays Lang’s old cellmate and friend and is allowed to be hysterical.

Speaking of hilarity, Ant-Man is not really a character that intimidates. The name alone suggests this. Fortunately that is not a concept beyond the team behind this film. With a screenplay already setup by former director Edgar Wright and co-writer Joe Cornish, Paul Rudd and Adam McKay have stepped in to craft a story that does make light of the nature of the character. The level of wit is not at an all-time high, but there are some inspired moments that reflect the absurdity of a character whose power is to shrink.


To speak of that ability, the film looks great. For being one of the more modestly budgeted Marvel films, seeing the creativity involved in making shrinking powers a reality is quite impressive. An introductory scene to this ability is neat, but it is the third act where this film is really allowed to shine. Thankfully the action does not overwhelm Ant-Man, but it is fun to see what kind of lengths this film goes in order to create an exciting and different finale.

Still, the film still merely amounts to forgettable fun. There are various reasons for this and the troubled production certainly does not help. Director Petyon Reed subbing in for Edgar Wright was not met with the most enthusiasm and while he does a fine job, everyone will always wonder what Wright’s version of the film would have looked like. As far as the film I saw in a theater goes, Ant-Man presents an average guy who gets abilities and saves the day. Some funny things are said and a fine cast does what they can to sell it. It feels right in line with a cookie cutter formula, while lacking that extra something special.


Ant-Man doesn’t attempt to take many chances and the film is perhaps better in some ways for it, but still lacks much to put it in the top tier of superhero films. It is average summer entertainment, which is not a bad thing. It has a likable Paul Rudd and a game Michael Douglas, which are also not bad things. You get to see the best possible representation of a hero shrinking and being able to control ants. That’s a little weird, but it is also not a bad thing. Ant-Man is not a bad thing. It is just merely a decent one.



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