WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS.
I'm sure I'm not the first to admit that I had mixed expectations for Ant-Man. In the months leading up to its release, I have read several news articles and interviews about Ant-Man's production issues. Usually when a movie has backstage problems, its quality suffers greatly. Examples include, but are not limited to Brave, Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World.
As such, I was weary that Ant-Man could end up being a rare misfire for Marvel. Unfortunately, while I may be in the minority with my opinion, this somewhat became the case with Ant-Man. The key word being: "somewhat."
Right off the bat, Ant-Man started off pretty well. The main character Scott Lang is an instantly likable protagonist. Whether he's getting into a prison fight or working as Baskin Robbins, Paul Rudd gives an earnest charm to Scott that fits the character to a tee. Though the character himself was a cliched down-on-his-luck father with an estranged ex-wife and child, Rudd does his best to elevate the character. Something about the way he delivered his lines felt like he really cared about what he was filming, and it was a pleasant viewing experience. Even with all of the film's flaws, I am still looking forward to seeing Rudd play the miniscule warrior in future MCU installments.
On the other hand, despite how strong the supporting cast is, their characters are pretty weak. Hank Pym (played by the typically masterful Michael Douglas) comes across as yet another retired hero-turned-mentor who's only purpose in the film is to train Scott on how to use the Ant-Man suit. Sure, he has the occasional funny line, and Michael Douglas gives him charm, but he seems to take a backseat in this movie.
The problem with Hank Pym is that by the end of the movie, Scott doesn't really learn anything from him. During the film, Scott is caught in the middle of a tedious father-daughter conflict between Hank and his daughter Hope (played by the underrated Evangeline Lilly). Hope wants to wear the shrink suit instead of Scott, but Hank won't let her. The two go back and forth about how Hope's mother died several times until Hank finally tells Hope that she died using the suit and they reconcile. Since Scott has a daughter himself, you'd think that he'd learn something from this conflict, but no. He loves his daughter just as much at the beginning of the film as he does by the end. So essentially, this daddy-issues subplot was entirely pointless.
As for the character of Hope, she comes across as the typical gung-ho daughter who wants to fight when her overprotective father won't let her. All she really does is mope about how she wants to take up the shrink suit. By the time she does get a shrink suit of her own (during the mid-credits scene), I didn't care what happened to her. She just felt like another obligatory female side character that the protagonist ends up falling in love with.
The weakest character, by far, is the villain. Darren Cross/Yellowjacket has to be the worst villain in the MCU next to Malekith. He's just another smarmy businessman in a suit like in all three Iron Man movies and Captain America 2. What makes it even worse is that the film doesn't really try to make him memorable. His motivations for being evil are never really clear (whether it's a hunger for power or a chemical imbalance), and he is just forgettable as a whole. At least in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Alexander Pierce was memorable in the context of the film's political plot.
The film even has to resort to showing him performing cruel animal testing on adorable lambs to force the audience to hate him. When a script has to stoop to something that obvious and desperate to get you to hate the villain, you get the feeling like even the filmmakers think the character is weak. Imagine if all Red Skull did was punch puppies: you'd hate him on instinct, but it would feel as lazy as a fake-out jumpscare in a horror film.
Moreover, the fact that the movie changed writers/directors was pretty clear to see. Some scenes suffer from jarring tonal shifts. For example, what seems like a training montage is interrupted by tragic exposition of Hope's mother dying from shrinking into oblivion. This, in turn, is concluded by a witty remark from Scott that feels out of place and awkwardly timed. If this was meant to be funny, it wasn't.
Based on several interviews and stories that I’ve read, the most likely reason why Edgar Wright left Ant-Man was because the heads at Marvel Studios wanted him to tie his film more into Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. The urge to tie this movie into the universe becomes quite apparent in one scene where Scott just happens to drop in on the newly-built Avengers headquarters to steal an unknown device. The scene, which features a fight with Falcon (played by Anthony Mackie) is almost completely pointless and only serves as a forced universe tie-in. If this scene is the reason why Edgar Wright left, I can certainly sympathize with him.
Despite all of these flaws I’ve had with the film, there were still plenty of moments that delivered the goods. The humor, for the most part, is just as witty as you'd expect from a Marvel movie. In particular, Michael Peña’s character Luis was the comedic highlight of the movie.
Luis is Scott's good friend and former cell mate. Despite the fact that he went to jail, his mother died, and his father was deported, he is still strangely optimistic. He also has a knack for telling stories in a humorously rambling manner. Peña’s genius performance combined with the character’s awkward nature make Luis one of the best comic relief characters I’ve ever seen. As many people have already said, I'd love to see a one-shot of his character narrating Ant-Man's events in a silly, rambling manner.
The potentially silly concept of Scott being able to control the minds of ants was executed flawlessly as well. Seeing him train and learn to become one with the ants was so surreal, and yet incredibly fun to see. Seeing Scott fly around on a carpenter ant and build fire ant bridges proved that big imagination can come in small packages.
The scene where he breaks into Cross' building to steal the Yellowjacket suit is especially exhilarating, and I was truthfully fully engaged. To put it bluntly: seeing Ant-Man surf on a bed of fire ants is destined to be a classic Marvel moment for me. On paper, something like that in an action film seems destined for mockery, but director Peyton Reed really makes it work.
As a side note: RIP Antony.
It is no surprise that the best scene in the movie was straight from the mind of Edgar Wright, and Peyton Reed amiably translates it onto the screen. The final fight between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket takes place in Scott's daughter's bedroom. Toys are thrown, a piggy bank is blown up, and Thomas the Tank Engine blows a hole in the wall. Again, what sounds stupid really works well on film. The sheer creativity of this fight scene is something that has to be seen to believe, and I dare say it's one of the best fight scenes I've seen in recent years.
Both of the previously mentioned scenes happened at the end of the movie, so I walked out feeling satisfied with what I've seen. The experience itself was worth it. Sure, the movie is far from perfect, but I felt like I had spent my money well. It was only in retrospect that I really reflected on the movie's flaws.
In a way, the movie does exactly what it sets out to do; giving audiences something ambitious while still hyping them up for future MCU movies. Ant-Man is a mess, yes, but I do recommend checking it out for what it is and what it offers for longtime Marvel fans.