Review: Ant-Man

Director: Peyton Reed (Bring it On, The Break-Up, Down with Love, Yes Man)
Writers: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd
Producers: Kevin Feige
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Abby Ryder Fortson, Michael Peña
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 117 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

 


One thing a superhero movie, or any blockbuster, should never be is boring. Unfortunately, that’s the quickest criticism I would make of Ant-Man, which out of everything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe should have had the uniqueness to avoid that description the most. At this point in the game, being the 12th film in the franchise and the closer of their Phase Two, it’s no surprise that Ant-Man follows the Marvel formula from start to finish, but Guardians of the Galaxy just last year showed that you can be on the MCU factory line and still bring a flesh flavor to the mix that excites more often than it succumbs to tedium. Even with the much-discussed departure of Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, this film had all the potential to be the quirky and charismatic jolt of energy that the franchise needed to stave off the fatigue it’s been plagued with increasingly the past few years of dolling out one overfamiliar entry after the next. Director Peyton Reed comes from a unique line of comedies, Anchorman director Adam McKay worked on a new draft of the script and right alongside him was star Paul Rudd, an unconventional and exciting choice to lead a big superhero extravaganza. So why did Ant-Man turn out so dull?

Maybe it was the tired plot, as Marvel’s patented routine of bland, one-dimensional, practically non-existent villains sees its newest member in the form of Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross, saddling a very talented actor with a character who doesn’t even warrant a second glance. The moment you meet this guy there’s no real sense of threat to him, so instead you sit back and wait for whatever is going to happen to wash him away so he can join Malekith and Ivan Vanko in the annals of nobodies. Cross got his feelings hurt when his mentor, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), wouldn’t share his big secrets with him so instead he spent decades trying to create what Pym did in order to…. um…. uh….. revenge…. or….. ? Well how about this, how about Pym’s sad story about his deceased wife leading him to neglect his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who now works for Cross but goes back to her father for help when she discovers what he’s going to do with this dangerous new technology. You see, the whole relationship is built around the fact that Pym has been hiding the truth of what happened to Hope’s mother and there’s this really big emotional moment where he finally tells her, letting her know that he hid it all these years, ruining his relationship with his only child and causing her to abandon him, because…. um…. crap…. well…. the movie needed an emotional scene?

Even more grating than these dim and uninvolving supporting characters is the Ant-Man himself, Scott Lang, played by a wildly out of place Rudd whose endearingly smug charms clash horribly with the pallid delivery of this weak material. When we first meet Lang he’s being released from prison, quickly falling back into his life of crime after his brief tenure at Baskin-Robbins is cut short because it’s hard getting work out there for an ex-con. He wants to tread the right path and be the good father that his daughter Cassie sees him as, so naturally he lasts about six weeks before he’s back breaking into a house to rob a safe, only all that he finds in there is a nifty motorcycle suit, which he decides to take anyway for some reason. God, this movie makes no sense. Anyway, the whole emotional crux of the film is really built around the two father/daughter relationships between Pym and Hope and Scott and Cassie, but none of the emotions feel earned because both relationships lack any kind of proper development. The major scenes for each of their arcs come about from a played out blueprint of typical movie formula that you can see from a mile away, seeming to exist only because that’s where the movie needed them to be for the characters to keep going. Nothing in Ant-Man feels like it happens for any reason other than “well it has to, right?”, and the whole thing gives off this tepid feeling of being phoned in from everyone.

All of this wouldn’t even be so annoying if the movie generated any sense of spectacle or excitement, but that’s very rarely the case. Somehow the uniqueness of a superhero whose powers are shrinking down to the size of an ant and being able to control the creatures feels as dry as the tiring character scenes that fill up the majority of the film’s duration, with only a few really utilizing the energizing visual capabilities of such an interesting interpretation of the superhero origin story. Although it’s hard to even call this an actual origin story, because two hours later I still feel like I have no understanding of who Scott Lang is, what his feelings are towards anything in the world, why he took on the duty of being a hero or why he’s going to continue doing so in the future. Sure, the film hits us over the head with the generic “for his daughter” story, but none of it is ever sold in a way that feels believable beyond that basic rationale of it having to happen because there wouldn’t be a movie without it. With a noticeable lack of action and such poor character development, it’s absolutely baffling to try and figure out what Ant-Man actually spent most of its time doing. Although, plenty of it was devoted to the relentlessly annoying stereotypes played by Michael Pena, David Dastmalchian and T.I., a goofy threesome of cohorts for Lang’s crime who are shoehorned in to try and lend comedic relief for a film that has no shortage of supposedly funny moments that fall embarrassingly flat.

Ant-Man should have followed Guardians of the Galaxy in bringing an inventive approach and fresh energy to the Marvel formula, something to stand alongside the more traditional offerings of Avengers: Age of Ultron, but instead it’s a disappointing misfire that’s shockingly dull and almost entirely inconsequential. It does manage to toss in just enough building blocks for the MCU that it feels like people will be missing out on pieces if they don’t see it, particularly going forward, but that almost works against the film’s favor. Maybe if they had allowed it to stand alone it could have utilized more of its time to properly build characters or at least make its own individual story remotely engaging, but instead it diverts off into other directions for big reaches to bring in other MCU characters so audience members can point and shout “hey look it’s — !” for a cheap shot of familiarity and nothing else. The worst part of all is that with the production troubles it faced and the aggressively increasing meddling of the studio in every facet of the operation, it would have made sense if Ant-Man felt like a film with too many hands trying to bring it to life, but that’s not the case. It’s small enough that it feels like a singular and individual piece of the puzzle, but that’s not enough to save it from being shockingly uninteresting, which is the last thing I ever thought this was going to be. I’m being incredibly harsh on the movie, but the saddest truth is that it’s so unambitious and forgettable that it’s not even bad enough to be memorable in any lasting way, good or bad. It’s just… there.