The idea of Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man ever making it as a feature film is a strange one, and even as early as five years ago, would most likely have been met by audiences with a raised eyebrow. While most of Marvel’s superheroes so far have been fairly grounded, a guy who shrinks and is able to talk to ants was sure to stick out. There are so many parts that you could easily assume just wouldn’t work in the film and yet they did. But in a strange twist of fate, the elements that have been rock solid in most of Marvel’s other projects, like characterisationand tone, are what ultimately let down the film.
Paul Rudd (This is 40) stars as Scott Lang, a con-man turned hero when Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) chooses him to wear his powerful shrinking suit. Up against Pym’s old mentee, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who now controls his company and plans to use the shrinking technology for evil, Lang must somehow harness the powers of Ant-Man to pull off one last heist. Along for the caper too are Pym’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and Lang’s comedic relief best friend, Luis (Michael Peña).
While the impressive visuals of Lang’s powers in play really sells the film, a severe lack of characterisation essentially pulls it apart. Rudd, Lilly and Douglas all make out the best, doing as much as they can with their characters, and Corey Stoll’s (The Strain) villain somehow manages to pull off not being totally ineffectual. Bobby Cannavale (Spy) is wasted though as the clichéd antagonistic step-dad that also just happens to be the cop hunting down Lang, and Judy Greer (Archer) continues to be ridiculously underused.
Lang’s actual ant friends are also squandered which isn’t really a problem until we’re meant to care for them. While he does have Ant-thony as his flying side-kick, the film pays so little attention to building a relationship between the two that it would be entirely possible to miss their few bonding moments together if you just so happened to excuse yourself to the toilet at the right time.
The other struggles of the film have to do with the uneven tone. It would have been the smarter decision to go full on comedy instead of a more straightforward tale with comedic moments. At the start of the film it cuts from Lang getting out of prison to him working at a Baskin and Robbins, and while played up for laughs, it just falls flat and feels more like a necessary advertisement to pay for the special effects. What follows though, is one of the most painfully forced bits of comedy where a customer tries to buy hot-food from the ice cream store. Cue laughter. Even thinking about it now still hurts.
There are admittedly a handful of laugh-out-loud jokes sprinkled throughout, but apart from a few moments of physical comedy, the rest is character based which just doesn’t work when there is so little characterisation. Every comedic line a character has almost feels like the movie pausing to say, “And now a funny line”, before returning back to the action.
What’s most disappointing is that it could have been a great movie. Marvel is normally so careful about nurturing their projects that with a bit more time and care this film would (and should) have been as equally great as Guardians of the Galaxy. All the ingredients for a terrific film were present; they just never properly meshed into a cohesive film.
And while all of these things attempted to bring the film down, overall it was still fun. The plot never carries, and not once did I find myself looking down at my watch wondering how long was left, which is a notable achievement for a film that clocks a running time of 117 minutes. The well-directed action and Lang’s shrinking stunts really carry Ant-Man and save it from being lacklustre, which makes it an enjoyable watch.
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