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Ant-Man Starts Slow but Finishes off with Some Fast (Small) Fun

Seriously Marvel…if you want your movie to focus on fathers and daughters, it might have been helpful to hire a daughter.


[Minor spoilers to follow under the blocked-out text.]

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I’ll be honest…I didn’t LOVE last year’s second summer Marvel movie, Guardians of the Galaxy.

There were just some things that rubbed me the wrong way, despite recognizing the charms of Chris Pratt and the kick-ass smarts of the sisters. But one of the reasons I think the film became such a huge hit, was its willingness not to tie much into Marvel’s other films, so you didn’t feel the pressure to think about what we learned from all the other movies. It almost felt like a stand-alone movie, and it embraced the space-opera origins it parodied. When Marvel is willing to really embrace genre–for example, when Thor felt like an ’80s fantasy, or Captain America felt like a 70s political thriller (or 40s war film)–I think they are at their best.

Ant-Man is Marvel’s attempt at a heist-caper film, and the film is at its best when our hero Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) brings together his rag-tag team and we see all the steps involved. The movie is also funniest when Lang’s team is in on the act, thanks to the deadpan humor of Michael Pena (who may finally get some mainstream success) and Scott’s fellow tech-nerd crew of criminals. The fact that Scott isn’t just a criminal but an old fashioned cat burglar (even doing parkour), who happens to use his techno smarts is one of the most appealing aspects of his character (despite Lang’s similarities to Chris Hemsworth’s character in this year’s Black Hat). What they don’t play up in this film is the cocky, asshole quality I heard about when the movie was first announced…the aspect of Ant-Man which seemed to appeal to Edgar Wright when he first started working on the film.

It’s no secret that this film suffered from some production difficulties, and the film’s clear division of first half and second half makes that upheaval obvious. Wright is still credited with the script, but so are Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, and Paul Rudd. Ironically, despite all these talents, the script isn’t as funny as I expected. Rudd has some charm, but what makes him pop on screen in other projects is a bit muted here, as if they didn’t want Ant-Man’s natural cockiness to be too similar Tony ‘Snarky’ Stark. And because of that, Scott isn’t the most memorable of Marvel men. Corey Stoll on the other hand is very memorable…and pretty ridiculous as Darren Cross (aka Yellowjacket). The character is funny, but he’s also the only person in the cast going big, which is a bit odd…entertaining to watch, and a stylized performance, but still very odd.

Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas are pretty memorable, but both play their characters with a sourness which doesn’t pump up the film’s “weird, wacky vibe.” Bobby Cannavale isn’t nearly as entertaining as he has been in other films this year (Spy, Annie) as the fiancée of Scott’s ex-wife Maggie, played by Judy Greer…getting yet another small, thankless role in a blockbuster this summer (she was previously seen in Tomorrowland and Jurassic World).

The movie’s “bigger theme” is apparently about the father-daughter relationship, and it is heavy-handed, but often effective. Rudd is an actor who can very easily play with kids, and does a good job in his brief scenes with his daughter. The Pyms clearly show their fractured relationship, but Lilly’s Hope may be a bit too severe and humorless to elicit the sympathy the movie wants us to have for her. Scott and Hope also don’t really have romantic chemistry. Perhaps if they had hired one woman to work on the four person team, Greer or Lilly would have been given a bit more to do. Seriously Marvel…if you want your movie to focus on fathers and daughters, it might have been helpful to hire a daughter.

While the dialogue is interesting despite being slightly fractured, the movie also has a lot of visual humor. When the film really embraces the scale humor an Ant-Man can create, it’s laugh out loud funny. Peyton Reed was an interesting choice to direct after Edgar Wright left, because their styles are so dramatically different. But visually, he has an eye for creating humor with action…including some pretty impressive fights.

The interesting thing about Ant-Man is, while I think I enjoyed it more than Avengers: Age of Ultron, I found it far less memorable. There is something that makes it, for better or worse, middle of the road. It’s funny and even sweet, but it’s also forgettable, and doesn’t leave you with the sense of awe we want from these types of movies (there is no need to see this movie in 3D).

The movie isn’t really part of the bigger Marvel story building from Avengers, but there are also plenty of references which prevents it from standing on its own. And yet, despite its incredibly slow start, Ant-Man is a pretty satisfying watch, with a genuinely thrilling third act filled with considerable visual variety, action, and humor. Ant-Man is just a small-scale success, but it’s definitely a successful outing from Marvel that will entertain audiences who go in with their expectations in check.

Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.

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