dir: Peyton Reed
You know what? It’s not so bad.
In fact, considering these hyperinflationary times, where each new Marvel product comes out with even more characters whose backstories we don’t care about and even more fights / explosions with robots / aliens we care even less about, this flick almost comes as something of a relief.
What amazing power does this latest superhero have?
He can shrink down to the size of an ant.
An Ant! Isn’t that almost… cute?
Since he’s not just another superspy / immortal god / indestructible green / blue / robot suited dingus, there isn’t the same kind of same same same story told. Not to imply that much of a story is told (it’s still built upon a house of clichés, but they’re different clichés this time!), but it makes something of a change from the endless parade of superpowered galloots that are polluting our movie and television screens currently.
He’s not a vigilante wanting to avenge his dead parents/wife/child; he hasn’t been bit by a radioactive anything; he’s not an alien with superpowers just because his adoptive planet has a yellow sun: he’s just a dude, and he can get real small when he wants to.
I am not familiar enough with the comics to know or care that much about Ant-Man or Hank Pym (here played by Michael Douglas). I know the name, and I know he’s one of the Avengers, but unlike almost every other comic in existence, I can’t really imagine anyone picking one of those comics up. Least of all myself.
So there’s this dude called Scott (Paul Rudd: the blandest possible choice and thus perfect for the role). He’s a crim who got nabbed for stealing a whole bunch of something. He’s a ‘good’ guy for a crim, in that he isn’t depicted as a child slaying-meth addicted monster, which, based on American movies, I assume all convicts are.
He’s made mistakes, let down his family, and is meant to, through the lens of the hero’s journey, somehow atone for those mistakes by… shrinking really small and doing the bidding of a crazy senile scientist and his mean daughter (Evangeline Lilly in what I hope is a helmet wig)? What a terrible motivation for doing any of this. As if his daughter wants him to put his life in danger just to become a new Avenger eventually.
Well, she probably would, knowing how dumb kids are.
Pym, the crusty crazed loon who ‘hires’ Scott through the weird process of staging a break-in that eventually gets him arrested again, is really mad at a guy who used to be his protégé at the company he founded. He’s jealous because the guy seems to have almost invented something which does the same thing the Ant-Man suit does, which is shrink really small.
We know Cross (Corey Stoll) is bad news because he murders some poor guy who disagreed with him by shooting him with a ray gun that basically leaves him a tiny smear on the bathroom tiles. We also know Cross is evil because he’s bald. Bald characters in superhero flicks, unless they’re played by Sir Patrick Stewart, are almost always evil, because of course they are.
He’s nasty, but no-one really cares about him. I certainly didn’t care about him. It’s pretty obvious he’s not going to get what he wants, because, well, it’s not like he’s Lex Luthor or anything, is he? He’s just some generic bad guy who is unlikely to survive the first instalment of what is doubtless going to be dozens of sequels.
Really, I can see Ant-Man surpassing even Spider-Man and maybe even Batman one day because he’s just so… nah, can’t sustain the joke any longer. Ant-Man is a joke, but he’s a funny joke. He takes the scale of the flick down to the microscopic level, and that makes for some inventiveness, some inspired moments from the production team.
There was some controversy early on when the flick started getting made because of a certain director that was attached to direct. Edgar Wright, of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, World’s End fame. That Edgar Wright. Someone who, if you knew about him, would seem like a perfect fit for a jokey, lighter, funner and funnier type of Marvel flick.
Well, apparently the arseholes at Marvel agreed to disagree by firing his arse and scrapping virtually everything he contributed. I don’t know if the bones of the script he initially came up with persisted, or whether it was all expunged, but as much as I dislike what they did to him (Wright is the kind of film buff movie nerd that inspires loyalty and protectiveness in, um, film buff movie nerds), I still enjoyed the flick anyway.
I don’t know who Peyton Reed is, and frankly I don’t care. He or she still did an okay job with very little. This flick (to its benefit) isn’t doing all the dull world-building, backstory abundance that the ‘main’ Marvel flicks are (with the Infinity Stones and Thanos and all that bullshit), so mostly all it has is its own bullshit to rely on, and I’m fine with that.
I look at the blander sections of this flick and I know Wright would have treated them differently. He could have brought humour to places where lesser, lazier directors just coast along. Just like Peyton Reed and Paul Rudd did right here.
Rudd, who is an actor I actually like, I’m not putting the boot in out of personal dislike or nothing, disappears into the flick just like someone with no personality of their own would. At no stage does he threaten to draw focus from the effects or the other actors. It’s a helpful trait to have sometimes.
Seriously, not every superhero needs to be played by someone who’s trying to out-Christian Bale Christian Bale. Sometimes you need someone who can be the blancmange / plain yoghurt / skim milk filler to build a film around.
It helps if you have a charismatic villain as well (which this flick certainly doesn’t, which is no insult to Stoll). It’s just that the character is so uninteresting and uncompelling that you’ll be struggling to remember anything he said or did a few days after watching the flick.
Douglas does okay as an irascible old dapper coot, but his daughter Hope brings the venom the flick sorely needs. Scott also has some sidekicks that are more interesting than he is as well (especially Michael Pena, who is just crazy funny in this flick – he needs his own Marvel property, most definitely).
The real star here is the planning that went into representing the realm of the small, the point of view of the ant, the magnitude of the minor. There are some moments that are groan-worthy (like the tank, which was, I dunno, the dumbest thing I’ve seen all year), to elements that are brilliant, but a heap of the other action is masterfully done.
The suit’s supreme virtue is that it can make someone really small. But coupled with that is the ability to communicate with ants. Now that hardly seems like it would come in useful, but the flick finds ways to make it so. The ants are great! Imagine what you could do if you could command a whole bunch of ants!
It’s something of an inspired moment (though it also points to the inevitability of Ant-Man being promoted to the big leagues) where Scott makes the mistake of breaking into an old Stark facility. It’s funny that Hank Pym hates the Starks, both pére et fils, but then someone has to.
The mistake is that what Pym thought was an old Stark warehouse is really a new Avengers facility, and yet he still has to go through with it. You could worry if maybe one of the actual superpowered dudes or dudettes was at home. Hulk versus Ant-Man, anyone? What about… Black Widow with a can of insect spray?
Turns out it’s just Falcon (Anthony Mackie). Still, it’s an interesting fight, and it certainly makes a change from the knockdown dragouts of the last fifteen Marvel flicks. It would have been even more interesting if they’d kept Ant-Man as an antagonist (that is not a pun, goddamn it) for the smug self satisfied jerks of the Avengers initiative, but that’s unlikely to happen. Everyone has to be onboard the Marvel mothership or else.
The technology on display allows for some further inspired sequences and fights, and I won’t spoil any of those, though the giant ant / giant Thomas the Tank Engine moments are pretty funny. The absolute greatest moment occurs during a fight in someone’s handbag between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket, where someone accidentally steps on an iPhone’s button, prompting Siri, ever vigilant Siri to listen. A jerky jerk yells “I’m going to disintegrate you!” prompting Siri to intervene and start playing The Cure’s Disintegration, which made me laugh out loud, so very very loud.
There is no doubt that is an Edgar Wright joke left in the script. No doubt. No fucking doubt.
I’m not going to keep banging on the Edgar Wright bandwagon, because, after all, not everything he touches turns to gold. I hated Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and that was as Edgar Wrighty as humanly possible, to its absolute detriment. But I wonder how much better this could have been had they left him at the helm instead of throwing him overboard.
What we’re left with is good enough, as far as I’m concerned. It’s good enough. It’s different enough, and the stakes are significantly lower than the other ones for it to be enjoyable in a different way. For god’s sake, just make them funny and a bit loopy, that’s all I ask.
If there’s any disappointment I have with what they actually did here, after all the references to the sub-atomic quantum level, I was expecting something more… I dunno, imaginative than what they show or do with it.
Still, I enjoyed it enough, and it made me chuckle a bit.
Ant-Man: It’s not a complete load of bollocks!
7 times you wonder whether he could be beating people up from the inside out of 10
“Scott, I've been watching you for a while, now. You're different. Now, don't let anyone tell you that you have nothing to offer.” – doesn’t this sound more like something a creepy guy at a playground would be saying to one of the kids before holding out some candy? – Ant-Man