Sunday, July 19, 2015

Ant-Man (2015)

Director: Peyton Reed
Notable Cast: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lily, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Pena, T.I.

After the disappointment that reigned supreme in a much too complicated and often muddled Avengers: Age of Ultron, my overall excitement for the Marvel Cinematic Universe hit something of a speed bump. At some point it had seeped into my cinephile psyche that perhaps Marvel couldn’t do wrong with their films after a string of continually impressive films that topped off with Guardians of the Galaxy. Age of Ultron was a sort of awakening that this franchise (made of smaller franchises) was not perfect and could not always be. A sense of doubt crept in. Doubts that lead to some leveled expectations on just how successful Ant-Man could be as a film and, in the end, perhaps lead me to enjoy it more than I should have. Ant-Man, unlike the previously mentioned Guardians of the Galaxy, is not the perfect blend of heart, humor, and heroics that it could have been. It’s still a film crafted in a slightly less than epic manner that benefits from simply being fun. It’s not to the quality of the character driven Iron Man 3 or the conspiracy laced Winter Soldier, but in the end it serves as solid entertainment.

Scott Lang (Rudd) is a recently released convict of burglary that is truly looking for his second chance. A new chance to be with his young daughter. A new chance at building his reputation. Unfortunately, the world is not kind to an ex-thief and hard times make him turn back to his old ways. To his benefit, he has been chosen by Hank Pym (Douglas) for the ultimate heist: break into a state of the art science facility and destroy the work of his new boss before it falls into the evil hands of Cross (Stoll). To do so though, he will have to train and become the hero his daughter always saw in him. He will have to become the Ant-Man.

Lucky that Hank Pym and Scott Lang wear the same size.
Perhaps Ant-Man’s saving grace comes from the fact that despite its general superhero aesthetics and structure (that comes off as somewhat similar to the original Iron Man film in the training and discovery elements of his powers), Marvel has diversified their approach to include some new genres. Ant-Man is, at its core, a heist film. It’s not a particularly daring heist film, outside of its science-fiction-comic-book-fantasy-ant-mind-control concept, but it’s something new for the studio to toy with. It follows the heist film elements step by step – the planning, the training, the team dynamics, the complications, and the actual heist – and does so without deviating from the core too much. In a way, Ant-Man plays out its narrative in a remarkably safe manner. Judging from its hard to swallow scientific concept, it’s probably for the best and it allows the audience to ride along without having to think too much about the plot and enjoy the film for its quirks.

At this point, I should mention that my expectations for Ant-Man were certainly hampered by the very public exit of writer/director Edgar Wright right before filming commenced. While his name appears several times in the end credits (story, producer, etc.), it’s hard not to be somewhat preoccupied during the film trying to pinpoint what felt like Wright and what didn’t. The action and, in particular, the final showdown in a little girl’s room between our hero and his flying/laser wielding counterpart Yellowjacket certainly feels like Wright. Yet the film’s safe nature with its characters seems to pull away from what could have been. Director Peyton Reed handles the material decently as he builds some fun comedic moments throughout the film, including a ton of scene stealing material from Michael Peña as one of Scott Lang’s cronies, but it is Lang’s own lacking character arc that undermines the film. There is definitely a parallel thread about fatherhood, but it is easily more dynamic in the Hank Pym and Hope Van Dyne dynamic then in Scott Lang and his familial issues (thanks to the strong abilities of Michael Douglas more than anything.) Between the safe structural adherence to the heist concept and the lacking build for our main protagonist, Ant-Man falters to be one of the better Marvel films to harness the power of heart on the slate.

With the issues out of the way though, let’s got to what Ant-Man does utilize to its benefit – which happens to be a sense of fun. The obvious attempts at corralling the humor in the film rides upfront here, thanks to the choice of Reed and Rudd as director and lead respectively, and it’s hard not to smile throughout the entire film. Some of the humor and plot work is fairly generic (Lang’s friends are generically dumb friend characters and the romantic subplot is a bit obvious), but the film runs with the idea of having fun with its concept and it works. Even when it comes to the action set pieces, a sweet Avengers cameo makes for a charming mid film sequence or the previously mentioned finale in a little girls bedroom, Ant-Man slathers on the entertainment.

Choo choo!
Ant-Man is certainly worthy of the praise for its silly premise that’s taken in some new ways for Marvel, but the lacking dynamics of seriousness did hinder the film from reaching the heights it might have. Some of this is simply due to its approach to be a funny film before a serious film and for the most part that works, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Marvel couldn’t have stepped up some of the plot elements to strengthen the characters and story. Not to mention, one more lackluster villain to add to an ever growing list. As a summer blockbuster, Ant-Man is easy to digest (don’t think about the science too hard as it’s still a comic book flick), but it misses out on some of the dynamics that lifted films like Guardians and Winter Solider to new levels.  

It’s a enjoyable film, but it still falls into a second tier rate film for the MCU.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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