Review: Ant-Man (2015)

Ant-Man

Rating

Director
Peyton Reed
Screenplay
Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd
Length
117 min.
Starring
Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilley, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Anthony Mackie, Judy Greer, Abby Ryder Fortson, Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian, T.I., Martin Donovan
MPAA Rating
PG-13 for sci-fi action violence

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Review
There comes a point when a brand is so oversaturated that each new film feels like a rote exercise in building suspense for a future film wherein the protagonist joins others with each role minimized to the point of obscurity. It makes Ant-Man feel like a metaphor for the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Ant-Man is one of the myriad superheroes created for the Marvel Universe over its impressive 54-year history. While the comics have slowed down introducing new characters over the last couple of decades, they maintain one of the most enviable stables of individuals and teams the comic world has ever known. Yet, when they built their cinematic universe around The Avengers, they left out two of the key players, Hank Pym, who became the Cold War-era Ant-Man and Wasp, his romantic counterpart. Yet, it took seven years and a second wave to introduce the popular diminutive star.

This story revolves around the aged Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) as he tries to stop his former company and their government investors from developing his prototype mechanical suit that allows the wearer to increase and decrease in atomic size with relative ease into a device of warfare. At the head of the corporation, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has finally worked out the issues with his suit and has decided to sell the plans for boatloads of cash and Hank wants has a plan to stop him.

To enact the plan, he entices an ex-con thief (Paul Rudd) into donning his suit to help break into the corporate headquarters, destroy all research data and escape with the suit in tow. We know how this ends because the trailers told us so much and, as with all Marvel properties, the foregone conclusion is that the heroes win.

Herein lies one of the key stumbling blocks for the Marvel Universe. Heroes need to have setbacks in order to strive against them, but each successive Marvel outing puts the setbacks within the framework of the film itself and never gives the heroes a true moment of dread at the end over the results of their actions. They always believe they’ve saved the day, even though the audience knows that they have not. Ant-Man continues that tradition, but tries very hard to create a new style of superhero in the process.

Rudd is a terrific comedian, having delivered some of the last two decades’ best comic work. Yet, he has gone consistently underrecognized. Choosing him to top this new series of films was one of the most brilliant moves Disney/Marvel has devised in recent memory. Rudd proves their choice was superb with his superior comic timing while developing a genuinely likable rogue that fits nicely into the mold that Chris Pratt pushed forward in his Marvel debut in Guardians of the Galaxy.

This film also continues a Marvel tradition that is unfortunately onerous. To date, Marvel has yet to topline one of its movies with a female protagonist. This is in spite of the hyper popularity of the Black Widow character, the possible strength of a Scarlet Witch vehicle and the possibilities they had with a founding member of the Avengers team in Wasp. We’re still three years away from the franchise’s first female film lead (Captain Marvel), but by the look of things, it might not be all its cracked up to be. Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) is treated like a nagging, privileged woman with little depth or emotional connectiveness.

The issues with Marvel’s horrid record with female characters aside as Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell) has proven more than a solid character in their wheelhouse, admittedly only in miniseries format on television, there are a lot of things to like in Ant-Man, most of which have everything to do with Rudd and a very likeable Douglas.

There are still more problems with an excess of characters, many of whom are reduced to pedantic stereotypes (Michael Pena being the most egregious example), but much of this might have been avoided with a director not beholden to Disney for success. Disney has rarely enabled incredibly talented directors helm their projects. Ant-Man, like everything else in the Marvel Universe, is a carefully controlled, crafted and honed machine designed to extract as much money from audiences as possible. Letting a director, any director, have free rein over their projects is anathema to their intentions. This film was originally to be directed by auteur Edgar Wright, but he left the project because of Disney. The same could be the reason why Ava DuVernay was tapped to adapt Black Panther but later backed out. They aren’t the only ones, but the pattern is quite obvious.

Ant-Man is part of a well-oiled mechanism generating just the right level of content to please fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but doing nothing to further the filmic art form and that’s all right. Not every film released at the Cineplex has to be a grand piece of art. Escapist entertainment is just as critical to the support and furthering of the medium as anything. It enables to studios to produce prestige pieces with modest bits of revenue. While this doesn’t have the glorious off-the-wall magnificence of Guardians of the Galaxy, it is an affable, entertaining film that fits perfectly into a well-developed if uninventive universe.

Oscar Prospects
Potentials: Visual Effects

Review Written

July 30, 2015

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