The marvel cinematic universe is a juggernaut existing in its own sub-genre. The films have transcended the medium of comic books as the superhero film became its own cinematic entity. The marvel films are no longer marketed towards comic book fans, their popularity and low barrier to entry has seen them gain a widespread fan-base that comic books never had. In the past, if somebody wished to understand a comic book character or universe, they would be required to delve through decades of comic books or hours of internet research to comprehend a fantastically rich lore and history.
The Marvel films require no previous knowledge in order to understand a character or universe, each film franchise receives its own origin entry followed by increasingly simplified and formulaic plot points. The upside to this is that these beloved characters can reach new audiences and Marvel has expertly marketed their intellectual properties through film, to make their characters a recognisable brand worldwide. The downside is that in the quest for a more widespread appeal, these films have become more homogenised and formulaic. For a long time, Ant-Man (along with Doctor Strange) seemed to represent a chance for the marvel films to break-out of their generic restraints. Ant-Man is a relatively unknown character and the nature of his powers seems to lend itself to a more creative approach to the superhero film.
Allegedly in development since 2006, Ant-Man originally had Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish attached to respectively direct and write the film, this was seen as a bold move by Marvel as Wright and Cornish were expected to have a strong authorial voice and Ant-Man was shaping up to be a departure from the established Marvel film template. Unfortunately Wright and Cornish left the project in 2014 citing artistic differences between them and the production team, sadly we never got to see Wright’s take on Ant-Man though he and Cornish are still credited as writers. How much of their input remains, is debatable. Ant-Man certainly does not feel like an Edgar Wright film. Ant-Man does not deviate from the other entries in the Marvel cinematic universe in any meaningful way, what we have here is a film that rigidly sticks to the film beats established in the original Iron Man and does very little to distinguish itself.
Down on his luck hero acquires fantastic powers and perseveres through growing pains to become a superhero and acquire/reacquire a glowing blue MacGuffin from a former friend turned villain who wishes to use said glowing blue MacGuffin to destroy civilisation because of, reasons.
Ant-Man is painfully generic, particularly in its poor third act and despite some genuinely refreshing aspects does very little to distinguish itself from the ten Marvel films that came before it, and the ten that will come after it.
Paul Rudd is excellently cast as idealistic thief Scott Lang. Rudd’s amiable boyish charms make Lang a grounded and more relatable character. When we first meet Lang we see him being released from San Quentin following a prison sentence given to him as a result of his Robin Hood inspired corporate sabotage.
Lang’s story feels surprisingly down-to-Earth, in a cinematic universe where we are numbed to the constant global and even universal threats to humanity’s safety, it is refreshing to see Lang experience relatively human emotions and situations. He experiences difficulty getting stable employment; he wishes to see his daughter more who now lives with her mother and her mother’s new partner.
Ant-Man benefits greatly from its patience in establishing its lead character, much like the original Iron Man did. We are introduced to Lang at his lowest point and as such his rise to power feels all the more satisfying to witness.
Similarly, Michael Douglas is great in his role as Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man and Lang’s eventual sensei, giving an aura of dignity and authority to the role. Pym was an original member of S.H.I.E.L.D and worked alongside Howard Stark to invent a technology that allowed him to shrink to the size of an ant.
One of the film’s major missteps is its insistence on bombarding the audience with scene upon scene of exposition in the form of dialogue. There are numerous instances where Pym tells another character a massive amount of information that would simply have been far more effective to show the audience.
The premise seems ripe for cinematic exploration, it would have been incredibly effective to juxtapose Pym’s 1960’s exploits with Douglas playing a controlled and serious Ant-Man, alongside Rudd, playing a more light-hearted and inexperienced hero. Sadly we see very little of Pym’s time as Ant-Man besides a few hastily told flashbacks.
Lang has his own entourage of rather silly and stereotypical criminal accomplices one of whom is the rapper T.I. Michael Pena is underused as Lang’s best friend, Luis, a well-meaning criminal who was incarcerated alongside Lang.
Marvel films have this habit of casting incredibly talented actors in completely forgettable roles; consider Pena to be on that list along with Idris Elba and Djimon Hounsou.
Evangeline Lilly is miscast as Pym’s daughter Hope and struggles to make the character at all likeable, in an end credits sequence the film suggests that she will take up the role of either The Red Queen or as a new Wasp in future films and potentially join The Avengers with Scott, whom she inevitably ends up romantically linked with by the film’s end.
In Ant-Man the audience is continually reminded that the stakes are high and the world is in peril, yet it never feels that way. The film’s villain Darren Cross/Yellow-Jacket is as unthreatening as he is forgettable. His motivations never going further than a paper-thin greedy business man that went insane because this particular glowing blue MacGuffin happens to make people go insane, because reasons.
Ant-Man’s action sequences are at their best when the film is exploring the character as a shrunken down figure dwarfed by regular household objects, this seems the perfect opportunity to deliver more creative action sequences as the world takes on a new perspective. Ultimately though, these sequences are underused and all too few and the majority of Ant-Man’s fight sequences are shots of henchmen being flung by a fast-moving speck on the screen.
Most disappointing is Ant-Man’s meeting with The Falcon at a secret (read: not at all secret) Avengers research facility. The two end up fighting in an all too brief and boring encounter that relegates The Falcon to the lowest tier of Avenger in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, alongside Hawkeye, having been thoroughly beaten by an inexperienced Ant-Man in his first outing.
The first two acts of Ant-Man are an enjoyable if forgettable romp, Lang and Pym have some great interactions and the heist where Lang first steals Pym’s suit is handled well. The final third act feels out of place and rushed. Darren Cross goes insane in an instant because the plot demands it; the stakes feel insignificant, though the final fight is pleasingly comical as Cross and Lang fight in Lang’s daughter’s bedroom amidst her Thomas the Tank Engine toys.
Ant-Man is an inconsistent film, if it were able to continue the quality displayed in its first half, it would be a brilliant summer superhero film. As things stand it is one of Marvel’s better films, coming closer to the relative highs of Iron Man or the Captain America films, than the appalling lows of Iron Man 2 or Thor: the Dark World.
Fans of the Marvel film brand will undoubtedly love it but for a cinemagoer looking for a spectacular summer blockbuster on par with Mad Max: Fury Road or Jurassic World, Ant-Man is lacking, it does not favourably compare with either. I do not hold out a great deal of hope for a psychedelic Doctor Strange film or a blaxploitation Luke Cage television series and now expect both to be generic Marvel productions.