It’s not surprising that Ant-Man had the lowest opening of Marvel’s rapidly expanding movie gallery since the 2008 The Incredible Hulk entry. Not that it is a badly made film, although I would say that it is my least favourite release from Marvel, but it does have a distinctly different feel than its kin. Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor have explored different genres but there had always been a unified sense of style and pacing. Ant-Man seems somewhat divorced from Whedon model, owing more to the original Iron-Man than recent Marvel outings. Again, that’s not bad, it’s just different.
Ant-Man follows Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, a old fashioned cat burglar with a Masters degree in engineering and an aversion to killing. Lang has just been released from prison and seeks to reconnect with his daughter, Cassie, but his ex-wife won’t allow him visitation until he has an apartment and employment. Desperate, Lang uses his contacts to find a theft that will result in the payday he needs. The job isn’t as easy as he thinks, having been purposefully set up by Hank Pym. Pym plants the Ant-Man suit for Lang to find, hoping to groom him into an ally who will take down Darren Cross. Cross, played by House of Cards’ Corey Stoll, has usurped Pym’s company and is on the cusp of developing his own shrinking technology which he plans to sell to Hydra.
One of the major themes of the movie is the father-daughter relationship. Lang is largely motivated by his love and desire to do right by his daughter. This leads him to risk further jail time by trying to steal from Pym. Pym, himself, is motivated too by his love of his daughter. Hank, seeking to protect his daughter, refuses to allow her to wear the Ant-Man suit, necessitating the involvement of Lang. Hope van Dyne, played by Lost actress Evangeline Lily, has the skills and willingness to don the suit, but Hank is too deeply grieved by the death of his wife Janet to risk his daughter’s life. Janet died while going sub-atomical to stop a Soviet missile during the Cold War, although Hank keeps this information secret from his daughter until during the events of the film.
Many viewers felt as underwhelmed by this movie as Lang was by his boon.
Ant-Man depicts two versions of this relationship. Cassie, who is still young, adores her father, is saddened to hear other adults call him a bad man, and tells her mother’s boyfriend, a police officer, that she hoped her father got away with his crime. Hope on the other hand, is deeply resentful of her father and angry at what she perceives as him pushing her away. With the revelation of her mother’s fate and realisation of her father’s intentions, the divide between the father and daughter begins to heal. Those are very deep, powerful issues in a superhero film. Yet, this is arguably one of the most comical films to come out of Marvel Studios.
Think of a Paul Rudd film. Literally any Paul Rudd movie will do, and you’ll be thinking of Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang. A well-meaning smuck with a penchant for being snarky, who can come off as being mean, has been Rudd’s bread and butter for many years. And he’s made a great career out of it. But I’m not convinced that Rudd adds anything special to the role. Sure, he’s funny but his personality and brand of humour are so recognised by now that Ant-Man begins to feel like another Paul Rudd comedy. He’s very serious and sincere when the script calls for it, but the comedy far outweighs the seriousness here. In essence, I feel sympathetic towards the character and the character’s motivations but the actor pulls me out of the film.
Evangeline Lily also isn’t terribly convincing. Hope is a strong, female character who isn’t perfect. She harbours deep seeded resentment and bitterness towards her father. Lily can certainly pull off angry but she also comes across as cocky and precious, like a child throwing a tantrum when they don’t get a sweet. Maybe that was intentional but a better actor could have given a more nuanced performance. Or I might just be biased. I’ll admit that my dislike of Kate Austen, her character in Lost, may be feeding into my opinion of her work as Hope van Dyne.
Lily’s primary emotions are sad and angry. Sometimes both.
Written by Edgar Wright, produced by Kevin Feige and directed by Peyton Reed, Ant-Man opts for a simple plot. In its most basic outline, the structure of the film is that a good guy has powerful technology which is replicated by a bad guy and the good guy has to use said technology to defeat the bad guy and stop further destruction or chaos. That’s an outline that could fit the first and second Iron Man movies, Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor, if we replace technology with magic device. By now though, audiences expect more complex stories and genres, such as how Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a political thriller or Guardians of the Galaxy was a space opera. Ant-Man teases being an old fashioned heist movie. I wish they’d taken those elements further.
That said, the return to basics is refreshing following Avengers: Age of Ultron. Half of the Avengers are now either retired or missing following the destruction caused by Tony Stark’s rogue A.I. After such an intense film, Ant-Man acts as a breather, relaxing viewers while also preparing them for what is to come. One of my favourite scenes from this film is Ant-Man’s accidental encounter with Anthony Mackie’s Falcon. Seeing two differently powered superheroes go toe to toe and try to overcome the other’s abilities was more interesting than watching two men out shrink each other. Furthermore, it showed that Ant-Man could fill a spot on the team without being seen as the lame duck. Finally, it whet the audience’s appetite for Captain America: Civil War, where differently powered superheroes will duke it out on a much bigger scale with much bigger stakes.
To say that Ant-Man is a poor film would do the movie a disservice. It may not stand up against some of it’s more accomplished counterparts, but Ant-Man is a fine film and you could do far worse than to spend your time and money to see it. Just remember to stay until the very end of the credits. If it weren’t for my soon-to-be wife, I’d have missed that final stinger. And, trust me, it’s worth waiting for.