Presumptions About 'Ant-Man'
It's been seven years since the first Marvel Studios film [Iron Man] was released and there may have been a few bumps in their road to success, but nothing really slowed them down or proved detrimental to their achievements. With Marvel Studios garnering a great deal of praise in 2014 for films like 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' and 'Guardians of the Galaxy', many began to feel that Marvel was finally hitting their stride at a high note. They could do no wrong.
But I would be lying if I said that 2015's prospects for this powerhouse studio weren't a little daunting. Yes, we were going to be getting the much anticipated follow up to 2012's 'The Avengers', 'Avengers: Age of Ultron', but that would kick the summer off, how would the summer wrap up for Marvel Studios? They slate displayed 'Ant-Man', which, doesn't inspire confidence at first merely because Ant-Man, as a character, isn't very well known or appreciated by any audience member who isn't totally familiar with Marvel comic books. Even I had my doubts about the film's certainty for success.
There was one thing about this movie, originally, that I was excited for and that was the fact that Edgar Wright ('Hot Fuzz', 'Scott Pilgrim vs the World') would be directing the film. The man had a vision for this movie too, as he had been working on the script for a decade.
My heart sank when his departure from the film was announced as I felt like he was the only director who had the right style and flare to turn a character and story that were seemingly absurd into a blockbuster hit. My excitement for the film was dwindling for several months until I saw the trailer.
The trailer showed me that replacement director, Peyton Reed ('Bring it On', 'Yes Man') was pouring his own passion and love for the project into this film with all he had. Having a headlining star like Paul Rudd in the role of Scott Lang/Ant-Man was also appealing, as well as having a great cast of supporting characters like Michael Douglas (Hank Pym), Evangeline Lilly (Hope Van Dyne), Corey Stoll (Darren Cross/Yellowjacket), and Michael Peña (Luis).
The trailer also showed off some great action shots as well as a good healthy dose of humor that is needed to make a character like Ant-Man easier to digest for audiences. I should have known better than to question a powerhouse like Marvel Studios and I began to feel excitement around the film bubbling up in me.
Finally, I received the opportunity to see the film in Los Angeles for a preview screening and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Now that I've explained enough back-story about my initial feelings towards the film, let's get into what I feel the movie did right and what it did wrong.
Not Just Another "Superhero Movie"
One thing that Marvel Studios have been striving to do, that I've noticed, is to not let their superhero movies just be superhero movies. They are putting out legitimate genre films where the superhero aspect becomes sort of sub-genre. In 2014 we saw that 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' was more political thriller or espionage than it was superhero; 'Guardians of the Galaxy' was more sci-fi/comedy than it was superhero. The same rings true for 'Ant-Man'.
The film had a heist film feel to it as well as a heavy dose of comedy. The heist portion worked for the film because it really showed just how beneficial having the ability to shrink in size really can be. Peyton Reed and those who helped tender the script for this film really knew how to explore Ant-Man in a way that made the character and his powers make sense. People will talk about the humor in the movie or point out other aspects of how visually exciting it was and I feel that amount of thought that went into writing these heist sequences will be overlooked so I wanted to give that portion of the film praise first.
Despite how much thought went into making this plot cohesive and make sense, there was definitely quite a bit of humor in it. Actually, it was without a doubt Marvel Studio's most comedic film to date. I think this was to be expected as having Paul Rudd, who is known mostly for his comedic roles in movies such as 'I Love You, Man' or 'Dinner for Schmucks'. But even though Paul provided many humorous moments, the comedic portion of the film was mostly due to his entourage of friends or as Michael Peña put it in a recent press junket "ant-ourage".
This specific threesome were the source of many of the laughs that this movie provided us. Just a handful of some good-natured criminals that was put together by Scott Lang's best-friend, Luis. All three of these characters provide a great deal of humor and are a welcome addition to this funny and whimsical film. But the star who shines brightest out of three would without a doubt be Michael Peña as Luis.
Now, what makes this character so great is that although he may be over the top, he's a very real person. I had the pleasure of attending a press junket in Los Angeles, and Michael revealed that this character wasn't necessarily scripted to be who he was in the movie specifically, he was actually patterned after a friend of the actor's which brought an authenticity to the comedy.
But he's not your typical, annoying side character. He is actually pretty intelligent and has a lot of appreciation for art and take confidence in his own abilities. He never gets in the way or causes problems, he's a benefit to the film and to the story. He also has a lot of heart and shows a sense of brotherly love towards Scott Lang. We see this right from the start.
But even though I said that the superhero aspect of the film is sort of sub-genre, doesn't mean it isn't important to the film. This is, after all, a story about a character named "Ant-Man" that exists in very same universe as the Avengers. The superhero aspect is not overplayed but done very tastefully. The visuals were stunning to see and hearing director, Peyton Reed, talk about their use of macro-photography for the backdrop of the film whenever Ant-Man shrunk down was very intriguing.
They didn't allow themselves to use the fact that 'Ant-Man' would require a lot of CGI to become an excuse to not make it as real as possible. Peyton Reed said it was important that nothing look like a cartoon world whenever Ant-Man shrunk and I think the definitely succeeded in this. The environments that Ant-Man found himself in looked to me just how they should in an extremely large way. The ants were really great to see in a large way to, especially Ant-Man's winged insect steed, "Ant-ony". But it wasn't just visually that the people behind 'Ant-Man' put some thought into it, it was also the audible aspect they took into account. "What do things sound like when you're the size of an ant?" This is the question they asked themselves and the result of all these different elements combines was nothing short of entertaining.
Last up on what this movie did right was explore the varying relationships that people have with their fathers. At the surface, this looks very much like a father/daughter story with characters like Scott Lang trying to keep up the good impression his daughter, Cassie, has of him or the story of Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne butt heads more than a few times throughout the film.
As a parent of a daughter (and a son) I was able to connect with these stories, especially Scott Lang's story since his daughter in the film was close to the same age as my daughter now. It was extremely nice to see these relationships and the challenges that often come with them, portrayed on a Marvel film. It was nice to see that superheroes don't always have super alter-egos and that you don't have to be a billionaire playboy, a 1940s super-soldier caught out of time, or a mythological god of thunder to be a superhero.
Scott's a guy that we can relate to, whether we're criminals like he starts off or not, he's a regular guy, with regular passions that we all strive for daily.
Barely Meets the Marvel Expectations
There's a lot to take away from this film whether it's the actors, the humor, or the amazing visual effects, but one thing that does kind of suffer is the story. Yes, I already stated that I love the father/daughter dynamics explored, but the bigger part of the story here gets into what has sort of already been done.
The entire premise of the film sort of centers around Hank Pym deciding to hide his size-shifting "Pym Particles" and there being organizations that disagree with decision to keep these valuable particles in hiding, whether that's S.H.I.E.L.D. disapproving of that in 1989 or Hydra making an appearance in the present to try and take it for themselves.
You might ask how that's similar to anything that's been done yet and I'd point out 2008's 'Iron Man'. The whole story of a man running another man's company has been seen before with Jeff Bridges' character and Robert Downey Jr's in the 2008 blockbuster. That same corporate leader is desperately wanting to get their hands on some technology that has been lying under their nose the whole time and then trying to use that to sell to evil terrorists. In 'Iron Man', the villain wanted sell this game-changing technology to the Ten Rings, and in 'Ant-Man', the villain wanted to sell this size-changing technology to Hydra.
So you can see where my dilemma with the film comes from. It almost just feels like a reskin of the first Iron Man movie with some minor changes.
It's these changes that cushion some of the story though. Obviously, Jeff Bridges' character in 'Iron Man', Obadiah Stane, had a sort of mentor relationship with Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark/Iron Man. This film sort of reverses that. Darren Cross looked to Hank Pym as a sort of mentor that betrayed him by hiding these particles from him. The relationship with Darren and Hank becomes this wounded father/son story almost which delves into bitterness and really becomes insanity.
I would have also liked to have seen Darren and Scott come into contact more with each other or have some sort of run-in. Really, the two never even face each other or even have words with each other until the end of the movie. Mind you, the action sequences were very cool and very well made. I just would have liked to have these two to have more of a history against each other. I mean, I understand why Darren wouldn't like Scott, it's a hatred born of jealousy. But really, Scott was sort of just hired on with no real motivation than to stay out of jail for his daughter, and he was never told he was going to have to fight some crazy villain in a similar suit to his.
Things do progress in a way where I could see Scott would end up wanting to take down Darren obviously, but it still would have been nice if their antagonistic relationship was explored some more, somehow.
Now, I know I gave the film a 7 out of 10, but it's not a bad 7, it's a good 7. I feel like everything I expected this movie to do and be, it did and was. I'm glad that Marvel has this lower-key film in their library. It's more than a welcome addition. I like, also, how it connects to the larger MCU.
There's a lot of ground-work that was laid out in this movie, too, for future installments in the MCU. There's some very nice easter eggs and an action sequence that takes place in the film that features an Avenger (who I will not spoil) that I was glad to see ended up being more than just a mere cameo. There were some nods to next year's 'Captain America: Civil War', nods to Wasp, and for the fans with a trained ear, a quick but not so discreet mention of Spider-Man.
All in all, just go into this movie with reasonable expectations and you'll love the film in similar way that I did. It's not the Avengers, but it's fun and for me, it's a must buy on blu-ray. It has action, it has humor, and it has heart.