Jan 13, 2020
Countdown to Infinity War: Revisiting Ant-Man (2015)
So… Ant-Man. Ant. Man. This… is a difficult movie for me to talk about, mostly because it had so little impact on me. It’s not a horrific movie like Battlefield Earth, which if you’re not careful and don’t take proper precautions before viewing (i.e., imbibing an entire bottle of Jack Daniels) can scar your psyche for life. It’s not a great movie like Rocky, seen at age eight, which makes you do something stupidly inspired like go out running with your brother at 5 AM, and get taken into custody by two police officers and then get picked up at the police station by your dad who unthinkingly agreed to your stupid plan, not realizing what “run like Rocky” meant because he wasn’t the—
Wow, that tangent came from out of nowhere. Where was I? Right. Ant-Man. Stay focused.
Can I just skip this movie and go right to Civil War? No? Alright, then…
The plot: In the 1980s, there were superheroes unknown to the general public, heroes who could shrink to the size of insects and fight the good fight. Now, decades later, one of those surviving heroes, Hank Pym…
…has lost control of his company to executive Darren Cross…
…and realizes he’s dangerously close to also losing control of the secret of the “Pym Particles” that allowed him to shrink himself and inanimate objects. To prevent this technology from falling into the wrong hands, he enlists the help of his estranged daughter Hope…
…as well as reformed thief Scott Lang.
Can Scott become more than an ex-con struggling to stay straight? Can he become the hero Pym needs him to be to prevent a catastrophe of simultaneously miniature and mega-sized proportions?
Remember what I said in my Age of Ultron review about not hating that movie? It goes double here. Ant-Man is inoffensive fun, but it really didn’t make that much of an impression on me. It was the first of the Marvel movies I hadn’t seen in theaters because the trailer didn’t exactly wow me, and honestly, I’m not sorry I decided to wait months to check it out from the library.
There’s nothing really bad about Ant-Man; it’s funny where it’s supposed to be funny, and the action delivers—when we get it. And thanks to a strong cast, the film makes me care about the characters. I think the main problem is, well, it’s a movie about Ant-Man. Or I should say, it’s a movie about Scott Lang’s Ant-Man, when to me the far more interesting version would have been the guy from the ’80s, Hank Pym. I would have much rather seen a movie about him. Instead, we got a film with a lot of filler where Rudd tries his best to stay straight as he deals with criminals and also with his ex-wife, who wants him to have a minimal presence in their daughter’s life, and tries to avoid running afoul of the new man in her life who just happens to be a police detective. There’s a lot of drama here and I appreciate the performances, but man, do you have to sit through a lot to finally get to any action.
But Tom, you might say, what about all the training montages where Scott works with ants?
Oh yeah, we get a lot of those. And boy howdy, did I learn a lot about the different kinds of ants. There’s a ton of setup here, with massive info-dumps that throw off the pacing. Maybe what the movie needed was to be shown in a nonlinear fashion, where the movie starts off with the action in the third act and we get flashbacks to how the characters wound up where they are. They front-loaded the movie with exposition, packaged with some magnificent-looking CGI, and thought that would be enough. And maybe if I had seen it in the theater, it would have worked. But I didn’t, and it didn’t.
Paul Rudd… is not bad. As leads go, he’s the least we’ve seen so far. He lacks the charisma of most of the other actors, and he doesn’t measure up to Chris Pratt in terms of comedic talent. He has his moments, like the Baskin-Robbins scene…
…but overall, I think the humor for the most part fell flat for me. Rudd is competent, but that’s about all I can say for him.
And if there was ever a guy I got too much of in a flick, it’s Michael Peña.
I get that he’s comic relief, but sweet God almighty does he annoy me. I don’t deny that the sequences where he tells extended stories were amusing, but overall a very little of Peña goes a long, long, long way with me. I wish he could have toned it down a bit.
Evangeline Lilly does a fine job in the film, and it’s refreshing to see after so many females playing second to male characters, that we get a hint of things to come at the end of this movie.
Hope is smart and brave and skilled, and I largely liked the interactions between her and Scott. It starts out as an adversarial relationship that grows organically into mutual respect, and I liked how she was more than just a little bitter over her father choosing Scott over her to perform the dangerous tasks ahead. If I have any objection to their relationship, it’s that the two fall in love too soon. I would have much rather seen them remain somewhat adversarial as Scott carries a torch for his ex-wife Maggie, hoping to somehow get his old life back.
And while we’re on the subject of Scott’s old life, I have to admit Abby Ryder Fortston as Scott’s daughter Cassie is adorable and handles herself well.
Michael Douglas isn’t bad in the role of Hank Pym. He delivers a solid performance, and I don’t really have any complaints. He has some good moments, such as the 1980s flashback opening where he’s digitally de-aged to his Fatal Attraction days…
…and the heart to heart he has with Lilly when he reveals how Janet died is well executed. But here’s the thing; the scene at the beginning only made me want to see more of what the ’80s was like in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hell, we’re all nostalgic for the ’80s these days…
…and I think people would have dug seeing Pym’s Ant-Man in action way back when. I would have liked to have seen a parallel story between the two Ant-Men old and new. Perhaps we could have seen Hank on a mission in the ’80s that somehow directly impacts what’s going on with Scott in the present day. That was how little I really cared about what was happening in the third act of this movie; I kind of knew where it was going, and there were no real surprises coming my way. I guess you could argue that the same could be said of any superhero film (with some exceptions), and the journey is more important than the destination. I guess in this case, I really didn’t find the journey all that interesting.
If there’s one shining beacon in this film, it’s the unlikely performance of Bobby Cannavale as Detective Paxton, the new man in Lang’s ex-wife’s life.
All too often in movies like this, the new man in the life of the lead’s ex is, frankly, an asshole, or a bastard who’s such an irredeemable prick that you wonder what she could possibly see in him. But Paxton is actually a decent human being. He loves Judy and Abby, and tries hard to be a good father; he’s brave and intelligent, and when it comes to Scott, he’s even generous when he ensures that Lang’s jailbreak remains unsolved. I love what he says to Scott in regards to that: “I didn’t do it for [Abby]; I did it for you”. Uncomfortable as this is between two manly men, it shows Paxton’s character, which is a vast improvement over the comic book version, where he’s really just the sad cliché.
Speaking of vast improvements over the comics, let’s take a look at Darren Cross.
Yeah, that’s one of the problems with Ant-Man; he has a pretty lame rogues’ gallery. Believe it or not, it could have been worse, and we could have gotten Egghead.
What we did get in Corey Stoll wasn’t bad. As villains go, he doesn’t really impress. He’s charismatic and menacing at turns, and I do like the tension between him and Hank…
…but at no point did I ever feel he was a real threat to Scott. I had to bing (yes, I “bing”, not “google”. It’s how I roll) his character to figure out whether or not they made him up for the movie. But worse yet, they had to make him Yellowjacket…
…using one of Hank Pym’s numerous identities from the comics, because Ant-Man’s rogues’ gallery is so sparse. Cross ranks pretty low on our least-worst Marvel villain list, and justifiably so. In fact, I would have actually put him well below Stane, because that’s how little an impact he left on me.
Were there positives? Oh yes. The special effects are certainly top-notch; I won’t deny that the work they did on the ants and miniature environments was very good.
And the work done on making Michael Douglas young again was also good. And let me say I love the hell out of the design of the Ant-Man suit.
The costumers did a tremendous job of capturing the feel of a piece of technology decades older than what everyone else is using. It looks rugged and retro, and exactly what we should expect from a piece of hardware from the ’80s.
For people who have been following these articles, I’m sure you’re getting tired of some of my issues with these movies, among them heroes fighting heroes. So you might be shocked to discover that I actually enjoyed Anthony Mackie’s extended cameo in the film.
Maybe it was because I like Mackie a great deal, or maybe it’s because the fight between Falcon and Ant-Man is so entertaining. Maybe it’s because up until this point, I was kind of bored with the flick and this was the first scene that really interested me. Whatever the reason, I admit the fight worked.
Christophe Beck’s score is, well, alright. It’s serviceable and it gets the job done. It fits the tone of the movie, which means it can be lighthearted at times and fuel the action sequences in others. The guy is a veteran composer and knows what works, so I have no complaints.
So where was Ant-Man in the comics? Well, remember Hank Pym?
It’s… complicated. At this point, Hank had merged with Ultron, and I still don’t know exactly how that’s going to play out. Right now, I think the writers don’t know what to do with either character, and they’re currently in a holding pattern. I kind of wish I had picked up that Avengers AI series where Hank had formed a team of artificial life forms; at least Marvel was trying something different. As for Scott Lang, there were attempts to capitalize on the Ant-Man movie with a new comic series…
…but it never really gained any traction. The story centered around Scott moving to Miami and opening up a sort of heroes-for-hire business called Ant-Man Security Solutions. The move was so he could stay close to his daughter Cassie, a sometimes super-heroine in her own right named Stature, who was also a member of the Young Avengers.
I figure these characters will also be making an appearance around Marvel’s Phase Five… provided the Spielberg-predicted superhero movie implosion doesn’t hit by then.
Next time: Everything we’ve seen up until now culminates in a cinematic masterpiece.