Release Date: July 17, 2015
Running Time: 117 minutes
Ant-Man isn’t a Marvel superhero whose name carries the same weight as Spider-Man or Captain America. So the nine years spent bringing this tiny costumed crusader to the big screen offers a curious and revealing portrait of Marvel pre- and post-Iron Man. In 2006, Marvel hired Shaun of the Dead’s Edgar Wright to direct Ant-Man. That was before Robert Downey Jr. donned his Iron Man suit and, more importantly, the launch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe through the Avengers Initiative. Wright worked with co-screenwriter Joe Cornish on the script and directed Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The World’s End while in preparations for Ant-Man, which Marvel would eventually positioned as the film that would kick off Phase 3 of the MCU. All seemed hunky dory until weeks before shooting was to begin last year. Marvel reportedly made script changes that led Wright to leave Ant-Man over creative differences. Bring It On’s Peyton Reed replaced Wright, and Ant-Man star Paul Rudd and his Anchorman director Adam McKay punched up the script. The purpose of this recap is not to lead into a review of what Ant-Man isn’t but what Ant-Man is. We can speculate all we want about how different Ant-Man would be if Wright remained as director and infused it with his irreverent brand of humor. But the Ant-Man we have is the Ant-Man that we have, one that in Reed’s hands is both a blast and final affirmation that the creative forces behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not its writers and director but the in-house team led by Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige. This is not a bad thing. A shared cinematic universe needs a leader with true vision to oversee its growth and development, and Feige has been masterful in his job. However, there are times when Ant-Man takes a cookie-cutter approach to launching Phase 3 of the MCU. Did Wright depart Ant-Man because of the inclusion of scenes involving members of the Avengers, S.H.E.I.L.D., and Hydra? I wouldn’t blame him if that were the case. These scenes—as well as those that verbally reference Spider-Man and Daredevil—are shoehorned into Ant-Man in sloppy or awkward fashion. While it’s cool to witness Ant-Man engage in battle with an Avenger I won’t name, it seems less in service of advancing Ant-Man’s plot than setting up future events that may prove pivotal in films to come, most notably next year’s Captain America: Civil War. It also appears to be an attempt to give significant to a simple story planned around a heist. Physicist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) recruits convicted burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) to steal a suit that Pym’s nefarious protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has created to reduce a person to the size of an insect with the strength of a superman. Pym originally developed the technology during the Cold War and undertook top-secret missions for S.H.E.I.L.D. as Ant-Man alongside his wife Janet Van Dyne, a.k.a. the Wasp. Fearing Cross will use the technology as a weapon, Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) train Lang to use the Ant-Man suit and control the ants in his service in their bid to steal Cross’ Yellowjacket suit. Rudd’s casting as Lang is a dead giveaway that Ant-Man places as much emphasis on broad laughs as it does on action. How could it not given the inherent absurdity of its premise? Rudd’s engagingly self-depreciating as the underdog who seizes the opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of those he has disappointed throughout the years. More important, he wants to prove his worth to his young daughter, whose unconditional love means the world to him. In Ant-Man, the future of the world may hang in balance, but the stakes are small and deeply personal. This refreshingly separates Ant-Man from this summer’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. On the other hand, Ant-Man brushes aside Pym’s shocking incident of spousal abuse—which changed the perception of his Ant-Man in the Marvel comic books—in the same way Iron Man ignores Tony Stark’s alcoholism. Marvel doesn’t mind flawed men like Scott Lang, who break the law for noble reasons, but can’t abide heroes with too much of a dark side. Leave that to DC Comics, I guess. So Douglas gives us a Pym fueled by a decades-old regret that makes him empathetic. Corey Stoll brings enough crazy to Ant-Man with his wild-eyed take on Cross, who becomes the villainous Yellowjacket. Marvel comic-book fans, of course, know Yellowjacket as one of Pym’s superhero aliases with the Avengers. Evangeline Lilly is denied the opportunity to put on her the Wasp suit, but she conveys such physical and intellectual strength that it’s not hard to imagine her taking on Ant-Man and Yellowjacket at the same time without breaking into a sweat. Next time, Lilly, next time. Like Lang, director Peyton Reed is called upon to resolve a mess not of his making. Reed has a history of directing comedies that are both distinctive (Bring It On and Down With Love) and generic (The Break-Up and Yes Man). So what Reed lacks in visual panache he makes up for with a strong comic punch. I don’t know whether Ant-Man’s two funniest scenes were written by Wright and Cornish or Rudd and McKay—one fight set to The Cure’s “Plainsong,” another that takes places on a Thomas & Friends railway set—but Reed executes them perfectly. He also has a firm grip on detailing Lang’s quest for redemption and exploring the relationship between Pym and his estranged daughter. While Reed moves the action along at a swift pace, he rarely communicates the sense of awe that comes with Ant-Man’s powers. There’s no time to stop and take in the world that Lang sees and experiences from his vantage point, which Honey, I Shrunk the Kids nailed so well. Reed’s all business. Which pretty much sums up this entertaining but agenda-driven entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Aired: July 16, 2015
Web site: http://marvel.com/antman