'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.


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)

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.







'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.


Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times


Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.


Hip-Hop's Raashan Ahmad Talks About His Place in 'The Sun'

On his latest work,The Sun, rapper Raashan Ahmad brings his irrepressible charisma to this set of Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.


Between the Buried and Me's Baby Pictures Star in 'The Silent Circus'

The Silent Circus shows Between the Buried and Me developing towards the progressive metal titans they would eventually become.


The Chad Taylor Trio Get Funky and Fiery on 'The Daily Biological'

A nimble jazz power trio of drums, tenor sax, and piano, the Chad Taylor Trio is free and fun, funky and fiery on The Daily Biological.


Vistas' 'Everything Changes in the End' Is Catchy and Fun Guitar Rock

Vistas' debut, Everything Changes in the End, features bright rock music that pulls influences from power-pop and indie rock.


In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?


Maestro Gamin and Aeks' Latest EP Delivers LA Hip-Hop Cool (premiere + interview)

MaestroAeks' Sapodigo is a collection of blunted hip-hop tunes, sometimes nudging a fulsome boom-bap and other times trading on laid-back, mellow grooves.


Soul Blues' Sugaray Rayford Delivers a "Homemade Disaster" (premiere + Q&A)

What was going to be a year of touring and building Sugaray Rayford's fanbase has turned into a year of staying home and reaching out to fans from his Arizona home.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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