The 12th installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has hit theaters, bringing a close to “Phase Two” and setting us on a one-way course to May 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Unfortunately, this seems to be Ant-Man‘s most notable accomplishment, because being caught between the behemoths known as Avengers: Age of Ultron and the forthcoming Civil War places this decidedly smaller tale in a somewhat awkward position, and it doesn’t seem to be able to find a unique enough voice to transcend that placement between two of Marvel Studios’ biggest releases.
Ant-Man is, at its core, a story about two people who share similar goals. Right in the opening few minutes, we meet Dr. Henry “Hank” Pym (Michael Douglas), a creative and innovative scientist and inventor that’s shown working alongside Howard Stark, Peggy Carter, and S.H.I.E.L.D. before a disagreement places him on his own path. About 25 years later, we meet Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a skilled electrical engineer and thief who’s just gotten out of prison, and wants to dedicate himself to going straight for the sake of his daughter. In a pretty humorous and interesting way, Pym seeks out Scott’s help in putting a stop to his protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), who is seeking to re-create Pym’s size-altering technology and apply it to military usage. Even though he’s vowed to go straight, Scott’s path to his goal has to go through one final heist as he dons Pym’s size-altering suit to become the latest incarnation of Ant-Man, and pull off the heist of a lifetime.
First, a brief word about the comics: Ant-Man as a film makes no bones about the fact that it’s changing quite a few elements from the traditional source material, especially where Hank Pym and his family are concerned. That’s okay, though. Everything on that front is streamlined, and it doesn’t seem to distract from the story that the film is trying to tell. It has a cohesion with the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole as well, which is also a welcome — perhaps the most welcome — addition. As a single story, though, and judging this film simply based on its own merits, it seems to come up short because, in the end, it doesn’t feel like it knows what it wants to be.
If you’re familiar with the work of Edgar Wright — who was slated to direct this film before he parted ways due to “differences in vision” — you can tell that this story has the bone structure of an Edgar Wright film. Some parts of it feel very much like Wright’s, which is a positive. What the film needed, though, were muscles, veins, and tissue around those bones. Ant-Man presented a unique opportunity for Marvel Studios to deliver on something different: the character is not the head of a major franchise, it has the opportunity to be potentially well self-contained, and it cast some truly great actors in some of the film’s most important parts. Michael Peña is genuinely hilarious in his part, but Corey Stoll is a little too campy for his own good. Paul Rudd doesn’t seem like he was given enough freedom to be himself, which his character could’ve used. Evangeline Lilly brings a lot of great energy to her role, but wasn’t given enough to do.
The end result is that Ant-Man feels almost more manufactured than any other Marvel Studios film to date. It would be easy to see this as an opportunity akin to what Marvel explored last summer with Guardians of the Galaxy, but Ant-Man just doesn’t quite manage to be nearly as unique as either the character its based on, or as many of its predecessors have managed to be. Relationships aren’t given enough weight because humor is supposed to be an important element here, but it’s also not funny enough to warrant that trade-off in the first place. Action, though, is great, and the changing perspective of size and environments was really dynamic, and used to a pretty high humorous effect, too.
Overall, Ant-Man is a fun, but disappointing outing for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and has its share of welcome surprises, and has at least one pretty visually inventive scene at the very end. As a fan of the cinematic universe that Marvel Studios has created, it’s pretty easy to see that even with a lot of unique elements going for it, Ant-Man simply comes up short.
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