If you’re looking for the Reader’s Digest version of this review, I suppose I would say that Ant-Man is pretty enjoyable, and shows that Marvel doesn’t have to fill up all its films with hundreds of characters and huge, 100-million-dollar set pieces. But at the same time, it shows that those who see Marvel as a studio that can do no wrong should probably take off the rose-colored glasses, because this is not a perfect film by any means.
At first I thought it was a little strange that Marvel had chosen this film to close out Phase Two. Coming on the heels of Age of Ultron, it felt like they were going out with a whimper. But now, having both seen the film and knowing what Marvel has planned over the next few years, I actually think this works out really well. Actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans are going to be hanging up their shields and other character-specific accessories sooner rather than later, and Marvel is going to need a crop of new heroes to keep the cash flowing in. We’ve already been introduced to characters like Falcon and Vision, who will carry us into the next few years, but Ant-Man represents the hero explosion that Marvel is going to embrace not only in Phase Three, but also in its upcoming television projects.
There’s a line in the movie’s prologue where Michael Douglas says, “You give god-like powers to everyone, it’s going to be chaos.” Well, Ant-Man is a part of that everyone. Going forward, it won’t just be billionaire philanthropists and World War II super soldiers and Asgardians fighting the bad guys. We’re going to see mutants and vigilantes and kids who were bitten by radioactive spiders all running around, fighting the good fight. You could say that Scott Lang is the embodiment of this. He’s the everyman. There’s nothing special about him. But now that he’s been given Hank Pym’s suit, he can go out and fight alongside everyone else. And if you caught the film’s after-credits scene, you know he will.
So Marvel did a very good job in designing how this film would fit into the larger Cinematic Universe. But they also did a good job making Ant-Man a different kind of movie. My biggest complaint about Age of Ultron is that it was stuffed with so many characters, several things felt like they were short-shrifted. And while I loves me some good action, having a movie doing explosions at you for two and a half hours can get a little tiring. There’s none of that here. Ant-Man is a heist movie. A bad guy has something the good guys need, so they have to go and get it. It’s nothing new, of course, but the superhero spin they put on the whole thing was at least a little refreshing. And of course, centering all this on someone who can shrink and immediately embiggen themselves is pretty cool to watch up on screen.
There are a lot of other things I liked about the movie. I’m still waiting to see Paul Rudd take on a role I don’t like. The movie is genuinely funny, and everything you’ve heard about Michael Pena is true. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention my ex-girlfriend Evangeline Lilly. Just like Rudd, they’ve set her up for appearances in future films, and I’m excited to see where they take her. She’s a very unique character inside the MCU. Stoic, even when compared to someone like Black Widow.
So, all of these pieces I really enjoyed. It’s the tone that the movie sets where things begin to fall apart for me.
Marvel decided long ago that it was going to take a lighter approach to its films. That’s fine. I have no problem with that. In some cases, it can work very, very well. However, I think Age of Ultron and now Ant-Man are straddling a line where that tone is becoming a bit too much. Let’s remember what we’re dealing with here. The bad guys in these movies are capable of causing some serious damage, but when ten minutes can’t go by without someone whipping out a witty one-liner, the stakes are lowered somewhat.
Another problem the film has is its villain, white businessman Darren Cross. I’d go so far as to say this is one area in which the movie fails spectacularly. As tends to be the case with so many of Marvel’s villains, we’re never really given a good explanation as to why he’s as evil as he is. There’s a lot of talk throughout the film about how, even as Hank Pym’s protege, the Ant-Man suit was hidden from him. So… he’s mad? Mad enough to sell this technology to Hydra, who Cross knows is going to do some really horrible stuff with it? There’s brief talk — and I mean really brief talk — later in the movie about Cross’s Yellowjacket suit somehow messing with his brain chemistry, and that’s why he’s acting the way he is. But after that one mention, the idea is never brought up again. Almost like the line was left in the script by mistake. We end up having to accept that Cross is evil because, well, who else is Ant-Man going to fight? With Loki and Daredevil’s Wilson Fisk, Marvel has shown us that they’re capable of creating bad guys with some actual depth to them, it’s just that in most cases they choose not to. Hopefully this is something they pay a little more attention to going forward. We need to see that these guys are actually capable of hurting our heroes, and not just doing words at them and sneering.
This problem is most evident in Cross, but it’s felt in other characters as well. Again, Michael Pena is very funny, but you could get rid of him and the two other members of his crew (played by David Dastmalchian and rapper T.I.) and the movie wouldn’t change that much. Ultimately, these characters are just a way to get the jokes out there.
Overall, I’d say that Ant-Man is another win for Marvel, although not a win on the level of Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s a great story and a lot of fun, but still feels a bit like Marvel is recharging its batteries after Age of Ultron and before Civil War. I enjoyed the film, and I’m excited to see more of the direction it’s set for Marvel going forward, but there’s a piece of me that sees this as a story that’s a little frayed around the edges.