“One question… Is it too late to change the name?”
At the end of Ant-Man, after the two post-credit scenes finish, we get a proclamation as awkward as the rest of the movie. “Ant-Man Will Return,” we’re told in a glossy blocked font. I was the only person in my once full theater to read that message, because by that time the audience had left and the movie had long been over and out of their minds. I never cared about Ant-Man, or his endangered family, or its stock Marvel bad guy with no motive. The movie somehow works best when on its smallest scale, when it shrinks as small as the eye can see. But Marvel is bullheaded and concerned with grand proportions that lack intimacy or purpose. Ant-Man could have explored a whole new, infinitesimally tiny world. However, like a live and organic petri-dish, you can’t see the detail with the wrong lens or an unadjusted focus. At this point Marvel is flunking sophomore year science.
Recently released from prison, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is determined to straighten his arrow. Once the Robin Hood of cat burglars, more concerned with giving to others than taking for himself, Scott wants to change his ways for his daughter. To be the father figure he’s missed out on. It’s one of two father-daughter relationships shown in the movie, and neither really work well. The other is between retired scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his resentful daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). I use the word resentful because Hope was the deciding vote in ousting her father from his own company. Both family bonds are built on the ideal of protection. Even once we figure out why, it’s pretty hard to be invested.
Hank has sat on a secret for decades, hiding his powerful suit away from the world in fear of the terror is could bring in the wrong hands. That’s too late though, because his protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is on the verge of breaking the code. Hope comes to her father, Hank searches for a man to don the suit and save the world, and his first choice is the most recent fired employee from Baskin Robbins…Scott Lang. Not for a second did a buy Hank’s reasoning for choosing Scott, nor do the tests Scott is put through to become the Ant-Man make him feel like a worthy candidate and selection. This is an imaginative movie. It has all the kinds of gags and quirks and humor that such a unique character brings to the table. But it’s like a failed mad-scientist’s piece of Flubber, bouncing around the walls with reckless abandon. Ant-Man has more creative energy than any other Marvel movie to date. It just fails to harness it.
While I didn’t really enjoy the movie, I still liked the casting of Paul Rudd as the lead, even if his charm and comedic chops are severely underused here. The supporting cast almost does nothing throughout the whole movie either. Douglas never becomes Hank; he merely performs him. Lilly’s daughter character qualities are as attractive and welcoming as her boxed haircut. Corey Stoll is such an incredibly strong and intense actor, but I’d rather watch him stare into a mirror than try to play this vindictive, meaningless villain. He’s as well drawn as clarified butter. And again, for what feels like the hundredth time, Judy Greer’s enormous talent is wasted as a voiceless female who might as well not even be in the script. The most memorable character is played by Michael Peña. He’s Luis, Scott’s closest friend and the one trying to get him back into the scheming and safe-cracking lifestyle. Peña’s character is long-winded, resourceful, and has a boyish guise to him. His phone roulette style sequences recalling chatter within talks within conversations feels straight out of a 90’s movie, and gives the film some briefly endearing components.
As a filmmaker, when your movie involves shrinking, you better be prepared to wow the audience. That first shift into a minuscule perspective is key to making that portion of the story work. Those small moments – literally – are Director Peyton Reed’s best touches in Ant-Man. The choreography is perfectly staged, the typical everyday perils become life-threatening, and the camera constantly challenges the drastically different perspective. The Incredible Shrinking Man, Innerspace, even Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, they succeed because of their production design. This movie is lesser because it is all CGI, which creates less realism for the viewer, resulting in a less drastically changed POV. We react more when we feel that brief and pausing possibility of reality. Reed makes the shrinking moments fun, yet they’re so brief that they never become big. In Ant-Man the small is the microscopic and the big is the enormous. It just has its heart and its direction in the wrong place.
The week before its release, with a recent ant problem at hand, I sat in my garage and studied the insects (trust me, I know that’s weird.) I noted their movements, their avoidance of the poisonous traps, and their seemingly altogether one-track minds. Ant-Man mimics those qualities in every way. This is a movie with a $130 million budget that is poorly written and clumsily made (if you don’t notice the terrible green screen work you might as well stop arguing its merits or its detractions.) I absolutely loved Guardians of the Galaxy because there are no glaring tie-ins to the rest of the Marvel universe. It is, for all intents and purposes, a standalone picture. Ant-Man could have been, but the countless unsuccessful rewrites forcefully brought it into the franchise. It is inorganic and incongruous with the rest of the story. There is nothing worse in life than having to say “what if.” To dream of what could have been. There are flashes of brilliance and obvious inspirations from the original script by Edgar Wright (who parted ways after signing on to direct). Wright didn’t need this movie, but it sorely needed him, and while it’s far from Marvel’s worst, you can’t help but imagine what it could have been.
“Sorry I’m late, I was saving the world. You know how it is.”
Rating: 2.5 out of 5