Ant-Man is a film that has been in production for almost a decade. In today’s age of blogging and reporting, everyone seems to know the troubles the film has gone through behind the scenes. Most notably, Edgar Wright was attached to direct the film for the majority of development. In 2014, Wright left the project due to creative differences and Peyton Reed took over the film (there was also a significant screenplay revision). There has been a lot of talk of “what if” and “what could have been.” That simply is not fair to the film and has no place in a review of the finished project.
Instead, let’s stay locked in to what has been released: a great film. Ant-Man is a total win for Marvel. It is a movie that expands its roster of superheroes, continuing to build it’s growing cinematic universe (Ant-Man will be a great addition to the Avengers some day). And yet, the movie is refreshingly small (no ant-pun intended). Though the central conflict has huge ramifications, Ant-Man is not trying to save the world, and that is a good thing. We can only see superheroes saving a city/state/country/planet so many times. Sometimes, a conflict between two people (with appropriate backstory/motivation) is all we need to experience a good story. Ant-Man keeps the focus on the individuals involved and might just have the most heart of any Marvel movie to date.
The story follows Scott Lang, a “criminal” with a heart of gold. Though he has just been released from prison for his crimes, he has turned over a new leaf and refuses to go back to a life of crime. He continues his life by living with his group of friends/past accomplices (Michael Pena, Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian), trying to make an honest living and grow his relationship with his daughter. In addition to Lang’s journey, we follow the journey of the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Pym has spent his life protecting the formula behind his shrinking science. His successor, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), is seeking to use the science for his own gain and at the expense of others’ safety. Hope Van Dyme (Evangeline Lilly) rounds out the characters as Pym’s daughter and helps to train Lang.
If there is one thing Ant-Man is about, it is relationships. The relationship between Hank Pym and his daughter. The relationship between Scott Lang and his daughter. The broken relationship between Pym and Darren Cross. The relationship between Michael Pena and making the audience die of laughter. All of these relationships are at the core of Ant-Man, and help make the film relatable and emotionally charged.
If there is another thing Ant-Man is about, it is humor. The film is funny. I mean it, really funny. Like, I am smiling just thinking about the movie, there are so many humorous moments. And it is not just jokes spoken by characters, there is plenty of visual comedy, whether it be funny things shown or creative use of cinematography to cause a laugh.
There are four screenwriters credited with the screenplay, it is actually two screenwriting teams. Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs the World) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) receive a story credit and a screenplay credit for their drafts on the script. Though that team seems perfect for this film (a mixture of action and comedy), their work was added onto by Paul Rudd (Ant-Man himself) and Adam McKay (Anchorman, Step Brothers, The Other Guys). This is why I refuse to play the game of “what jokes were Wright’s and what jokes were McKay’s” or “this movie is good, but what if Wright made it…” It doesn’t matter. We live in the golden age of comic-book movies, and in 2015 we received an amazing Ant-Man movie. Who cares what happened behind the scenes? Four great comedic minds worked on the screenplay and it payed off.
As mentioned before, Pena is an absolute blast in the movie and I would argue he steals the show. The man is funny, and this screenplay lets him shine as a comedic force. It is not just Pena who gets in on the jokes though, the whole cast get moments to shine. All of this talk of comedy isn’t just for comedy’s sake, it is a means to an end. The end being a film that is equal parts human as much as it is super.
Ant-Man’s skill set is wonderfully cinematic and it is an absolute blast watching him fight various enemies. The shrinking/growing mechanic is amazing. So many (myself included) wondered if we really needed an Ant-Man movie. It will be interesting to see how general audiences respond to the character. I know this much, he is a worthy addition to growing roster of Marvel superheroes. I now understand why this character has been so beloved by the fans over the years. He is a superhero and he can more than get the job done, whatever the threat may be (heck, if Hawkeye can be an Avenger, then Ant-Man makes total sense).
Darren Cross (Yellowjacket) is perfectly serviceable as a villain. When compared to previous Marvel villains like Maleketh (Thor: The Dark World) or Whiplash (Iron Man 2) then he is a total homerun, but that is setting the bar too low. Yellowjacket is fine, nothing too special though. He has an emotional motivation for his actions and serves as an equal to fight Ant-Man throughout the movie. He serves the movie perfectly in that he pretty much stays out of the way and lets the main cast (Rudd, Douglas, Lilly) direct the plot. If you have a standard villain, better to let him stay out of the way instead of blocking our enjoyment of the story.
If Ant-Man had some jokes and good fight scenes, it would be fine, it could be comparable to other harmless blockbusters. But Ant-Man has more than that and joins the higher ranks of summer movies. Though the action and the joking makes good entertainment, it all comes back to these characters and the emotional journey they go on. It hooks the audience into caring about the characters and makes for a really emotional film.
I loved Avengers: Age of Ultron, but I can definitely admit it was bloated and it was a bit tiring seeing superheroes “save the world” movie after movie. Ant-Man is a heist film. They are trying to stop Yellowjacket, and in the process Lang is trying to connect more with his daughter. That is about it. Instead of a planet-ending doomsday device, Ant-Man is about a dad redeeming his relationship with family, and that matters more than saving the world, that is storytelling.
Ant-Man is pure joy and I think it will entertain both Marvel fanboys and general audiences alike. The growing and shrinking makes for creative action scenes. Marvel easter eggs and references abound in this world. The movie is extremely funny and balances humor and story perfectly. Most of all, we have a superhero film with real heart and it matters. Ant-Man was believed to be the lamest superhero around. Instead, the insect-inspired hero secures his place amongst his Avengers brethren and is the star of one of Marvel Studios’ best films.
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