Reviews

'Ant-Man' Wants to Be So Much Bigger

Having given up on making stand-alones, Marvel's desire to tie everything into its "universe" hinders Ant-Man's inherent joy.


Ant-Man

Director: Peyton Reed
Cast: Michael Douglas, Paul Rudd, Michael Pena, Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly
Rated: PG
Studio: Marvel
Year: 2015
US date: 2015-07-17 (General release)
UK date: 2015-07-17 (General release)
Website
Trailer

There are two versions of Ant-Man out there. Unfortunately, we only get to see the one being released to theaters this weekend. The other was a motion picture filled with promise, a labor of love for the men involved and, by all accounts, one of the quirkiest takes on a Marvel hero yet. Naturally, that previous stated adjective, "quirky", scared head honcho Kevin Feige, who keeps waiting for the other cinematic shoe to drop on his weakening multi-phase universes.

So Edgar Wright was pitched in favor of Peyton Reed with additional screenwriters brought in to salvage what the Shaun of the Dead auteur and his collaborator, Joe Cornish, had begun over a decade ago. The results are just what the box office champion wanted -- another cog in the infernal movie machine that cares more about overreaching story arcs more than individual entertainment. That this version of Ant-Man maintains the punky charms of last year's surprise hit, Guardians of the Galaxy, may be the only imprint Wright and Cornish have left on the material.

The rest is rote, with tags and tie-ins to future franchise placeholders, each inside move meant to satisfy at a later date. That's not the way a standard storyline is supposed to work. While much of Ant-Man can be considered self-contained, you can just tell it's trying to be more. Even within its heist genre trappings, there is a distinct feeling of "to be continued", as if Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) are meant for bigger and better things. Again, what does that say about your current commitment to the audience.

Narratively, we are introduced to Lang, fresh out of the hoosegow. He wants to get straight, especially for his young daughter, but the lure of another "last job" is irresistible. Into his life comes Deus ex Plot Machina, Pym, whose chosen our snarky criminal to be the next Ant-Man. It was a title the scientific genius held years before. Part of the plan involves keeping a former protégé named Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from selling the ant technology to Hydra. He double-crossed Pym and now runs his company. All Lang has to do is break in to the building, steal the Yellowjacket outfit that our villain uses to enact his evil, and beat a competitive Evangeline Lilly (who wants to be Ant... girl?) to the superhero punch.

When it focuses on the F/X, when we watch Rudd shrink in size but grow in power, Ant-Man is a hoot. A decidedly lesser comic book hoot, but a hoot nonetheless. The action sequences definitely come from the "haven't seen that before" genre guidebook, including an amazing bit on a model train track. But the lack of complexity and desire for interconnectivity starts showing through the minute the movie goes into character mode. Exposition dump after exposition dump reminds us that Ant-Man will be back for whatever number of Avengers' spin-off the Disney bosses desire. Instead of going for broke and letting Wright run wild, they choose the safe route, and it shows.

Still, this is a fast-paced and likable effort, nothing truly special but little to be embarrassed about, either. The actors are all game, with Rudd and Douglas spouting off some excellent one liners at the expense of the other. Stoll is a solid baddie; that is, when he's rocking the bug suit. When he isn't, there's nary a reason to really fear him. Yes, there are cameos. Yes, there are tie-ins. But this is really a three man (and one left out lady) effort, a cinematic scale that matches the movie's own lack of epicness. In fact, that's probably the biggest complaint about Ant-Man. Instead of having scope, it has sass, and sass will only take you so far.

Michael Pena's Luis is a perfect example of this concept. He's no Groot or Rocket Raccoon, but he sure is a scene stealer. He's funny, but he's also tiring, a gimmick to give this quasi-comedy a few more (unnecessary) laughs. Guardians of the Galaxy got the balance right. Ant-Man is too uneven to be considered that stable. Even the core concept becomes belabored, the whole small/big switcheroo gets a bit chaotic after a while.

And then there is Reed, who proves his also-ran status time and time again. You can see what Feige and company could have been worried about with Wright behind the lens. This film is filled with the possibilities of playing fast and loose with various tropes. Because he's a second (or, perhaps, fourth or fifth) choice, Reed doesn't distinguish himself. Instead, he goes back to the basic superhero handbook, letting his actors take the chances while he prepares the path. When the film is funny, it drives to deliver. When it's serious, it's quite uninteresting.

That's because the odds here are already determined. Ant-Man has to be around to play a part in the upcoming Civil and Infinity Wars, and failure here would only mean more back-peddling come the next installment. Like this May's Avengers: Age of Ultron proved, Marvel is no longer interested in the stand-alone business. It's all about the bigger picture. For something like Ant-Man, that's aesthetically antithetical, and the reason why the final product is merely good, not great.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Music

Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.

Music

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.

Music

Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.

Music

That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.

Books

Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.

Reviews

Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.

Music

Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.

Film

'Thor: Ragnorak' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.

Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.