Written by: Sax Carr, Special to CC2K
Sax Carr calls Marvel’s Ant-Man one of the best Marvel movies to date.
The rise of superhero movies has certainly been a double edged sword. On one hand we get to see some of our favorite characters and stories turned into epic amazing visual spectacles. On the other hand sometimes those spectacles are the Nicolas Cage Ghostrider series. My point is that as a huge fan of Ant-Man I went into this movie with more than a little trepidation. Let me save you that trouble… the movie is good. It’s like “top 5 Marvel movies of all time” good. Its GOOD. Go see it. But if that’s not enough for you and you need, you know… a review. Well here one comes:
Here’s the setup, which the movie dispenses with in the first 10 minutes: The story follows the first Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who invented the Ant-Man technology but has now retired. The movie’s second lead is Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a thief who gets his hands on the suit and ends up taking on the powers and the heroic duties and (of course) the name “Ant-Man.” OK, you’re set.
This movie shares DNA with two of my favorite films: The 2001 Ocean’s 11 and the original Iron Man. That’s not a pedigree to be taken lightly. I’ll break it down for you:
Ant-Man is at its core a heist film. Much like Ocean’s 11 or any great heist movie, the film spends more time setting up the big score than it does with the actual job. Scott and Hank need to stop Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from misusing his knock-off version of the Ant-Man tech (“Pym Particles”), but he hasn’t perfected it yet when they take the job. This gives our two Ant-Men, if you will, time to go through a whole bunch of wonderfully satisfying training and planning sequences that really make the movie sing. The training sequences also give the movie plenty of time to deliver some exposition about how the Ant-Man technology works. It’s a lot of heavy lifting (ant pun!), and the filmmakers pull it off well. The basic physics of shrinking and ant-controlling aren’t exactly cut and dry, and we spend much of the movie explaining, training and testing every power we’ll need in the end. This is a good thing.
The heist conceit also allows for the inevitable side missions, which is where Marvel crowbars in the now well-spoiled Falcon cameo. This was one of my favorite parts of the movie. It’s very much what happens when two heroes meet on the comic page for the first time. It’s exactly what it should be.
This movie also recalls Ocean’s in that our heroes need a whole team of thieves to do the job, including Scott’s buddy Luis (a scene-stealing Michael Peña). But as with Ocean’s, even after you fall in love with the whole team you feel like everyone gets used just as much because (perhaps sadly) this is not the Luis movie, this is the Ant-Man movie. As much as I’d like to see a movie about Luis, the filmmakers have to spend more time with Lang and Pym, as well as Evangeline Lily’s Hope Van Dyne. Happily, Lily’s character is the movie’s second most important role. Even more happily, Lily herself is AMAZING. Ahhhhh-mazing. (More on her later.)
This movie is also twinsies with Iron Man in structure. Both films feature inventors who build a high-tech super-suit. Both films feature entertaining training sequences. Both films feature a third-act battle with someone in a bigger, meaner incarnation of their suit. Both films deal with the potential misuses of the very technology that makes the hero and the question of an inventor’s responsibility. Most important, both films follow self-centered heroes who must learn what it means to become the titular hero.
There’s also a comparison to be made in how both Tony Stark and Scott Land are “legacy” characters; meaning, characters who carry on the mantle of a previous hero, like Wally West’s Flash or Eric Masterson’s Thor. Scott is the second Ant-Man, learning the ropes and the stakes from father-figure, Pym. Howard Stark is long dead by the time Tony invents the Mark I armor, but his personality and skill-set find voice and meaning in his son. Tony may be the first Stark to fly around in powered armor, but Howard Stark was also a “genius millionaire playboy philanthropist” who worked with SHIELD.
Before I go, and by that I mean “go … see Ant-Man for a third or fourth time,” I want to share my thoughts on what worked and what didn’t, because hey, that’s how reviews are supposed to go, right? Here we go:
1 – Hope Van Dyne is my pick for the strongest female character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While this movie might only very barely pass a Bechdel test (or maybe not) it has all the empowerment it needs in an award worthy performance from Evangeline Lilly. She’s not going anywhere either and I think we’ll see a lot more of Hope in future Marvel films, and Hope Van Dyne cosplays at conventions in the next year.
2 – Ant-Man’s powers work just fine. It’s probably a physicist’s nightmare, but it really plays well. “Ant control” turns out to be very useful, and I didn’t find myself questioning any of it as I watched the film, or 45 minutes later when I was staring into my refrigerator. The shrinking powers play too, if you allow for some “Pym particle magic” when relative sizes or distances skew a bit between size changes. The movie makes a lot of the “nobody notices Ant-Man when he’s small” story and it made me realize how little I notice small objects in my day to day life. See that Ant-Man? You made me a better person!
3 – If you know the Ant-Man comics, you’ll see some fun gags coming, and that makes them all the more worth it when they finally pop-off on screen. If you don’t know the Ant-Man comics, you won’t see a few gags coming, and that makes them all the more worth it when they finally pop-off on screen.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK:
1 – Corey Stoll does a bang up job as the big bad Yellowjacket, but I can’t help echoing a few of my fellow reviewers when I say that I feel like some scenes of his must have been cut out. The movie tries to excuse his more unusual character choices, but they can only cover so much. Hey Marvel! I’d have watched five more minutes of Ant-Man to get more backstory on Yellowjacket. Just saying.
2 – The slightly hamfisted “Kids and Parents” plot didn’t work for me as I think the filmmakers intended. I get it – Scott Lang wants to win the respect of his daughter – Cassie Lang, who in the comics will become a teen superhero … shhhh! Very long term spoilers! – and Pym wants to mend things with Hope, and Yellowjacket kind of sees Pym as his dad, but does Scott also see Pym as a father? You get it. It’s a good throughline, but it didn’t thrill me.
3 – OK … I’m stretching to find a 3rd “didn’t work” thing for symmetry… but I can say the first 15 minutes dragged a bit for me. I was impatient to see some Ant-Man goodness and the whole “Meet Scott, Scott is a thief” early stuff had way too little ant-control for my taste. I’m spoiled. You get some ant-ness very soon!
I should also mention the “macro photography” that built the world’s Ant-Man shrinks into is amazing. That’s all I got. Its good stuff. It didn’t cure the common cold, but it’s really pretty. I bet it’s way better then CG ever could have been. Enjoy.
In conclusion, I propose a game. Try and figure out what part of this movie as it currently exists was a bridge too far for Edgar Wright who famously left the project because Marvel insisted on changes to his script. Honestly, what here could have been THAT bad? I’m sure his was funnier, and I was much more down for Simon Pegg then Paul Rudd but this is a good movie… what was so annoying he had to walk way? Tweet your theories to @CC2KOnline. Mind the spoilers!
Oh! Also, there totally are two VERY good end credit scenes. Stick around.