Bigger is not always better. That mantra really only applies to pizzas and paychecks. We’ve seen this notion fail more recently in the Marvel cinematic universe with Thor: The Dark World and the should-be juggernaut Avengers: Age of Ultron, that didn’t have a strong enough story to slay its many shortcomings. Ant-Man has been a pipedream for the last several years, but Edgar Wright’s (Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) tenacity turned this unlikely dream into a reality. He was then kicked off the project. Creative differences aside, this film was much more entertaining than originally anticipated and served the singular purpose of introducing the world to the newest Avenger: Ant-Man.
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a recently released convict who went to prison for stealing money back from a company that was stealing from its customers. Technically, it was a burglary, he would argue. Either way, after some mandatory Baskin Robbins product placement and a lost job later, Scott is forced (really more manipulated) back into a life of crime, but this time with bigger stakes and a much smaller score. One tangential story from his friend Luis (Michael Pena) and he unwittingly falls into a plan set up by scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Their goal is to stop Pym’s protege turned super villain Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from completing Pym’s original shrinking formula or else the entire world will be full of miniature minions that could cause immeasurable havoc.
In the entire film, Hope is forced to train Scott so that he can master what Hope is already a pro at. Why Hope couldn’t just don the suit with her already exclusive access to the laboratory is just one of many plot holes in this film, but even the most well-built ant hills are full of holes. What else can you expect from a film that has been through preproduction upheavals and has had four writers give the screenplay their own treatment? To my great surprise, this Frankenstein’s monster comes together in spite of its many cooks. The approach Peyton Reed gives the film is a fairly conventional one for the Marvel universe. It is an origin story, and it doesn’t aspire to be more than that. Ant-Man keeps its ambitions small because it realizes that its only real purpose is to introduce Ant-Man as the newest member of the second generation of Avengers. Also, I’m sure the money these kinds of films generate was also a great motivator.
Marvel’s creative (or lack thereof) decision to part ways with Wright just makes the entire film a huge “what-if” scenario that will always be picked apart. What if Marvel had stuck with the guy who has a proven cinematic style and spent years of his life trying to bring this film to life? What if Wright had set a new standard for Marvel films much like James Gunn did for Guardians of the Galaxy? We will never know the answers to these questions, but the closest we got to even the tiniest essence of Edgar Wright in Ant-Man are the flashback sequences involving Michael Peña. This completely conventional treatment is made entertaining/bearable thanks to Peña’s comical schtick and Rudd’s natural charm.
It is obvious that everything falls on the Ant-Man actor’s tiny shoulders because his charm begins to wear off the closer you get to the end of the film. Sometimes it feels like Ant-Man is only a secondary character in his own film, just there for the ride. It becomes all the more obvious when you are forced to question why Hope wasn’t the one to confront the villain since she was more than capable. You never truly believe any of the excuses the characters make in favor of Hope’s exclusion, but then you remember that the Marvel universe itself is full of these same excuses for their lack of female presence and overall subpar treatment of strong, non-sexualized females.
Ant-Man‘s control helps it fit Marvel’s model for superhero films almost a little too well. This innocuously entertaining film does exactly what it was made to do, which is both a gift and a curse.
RATING: ★★★★★★★ (7/10 stars)