Movie Review: Ant-Man
By Ben Gruchow
July 23, 2015
Someday, after the perpetual-motion machine that is Marvel Studios finally ruptures and dies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be analyzed in its totality, with what I predict will be a combination of admiration and annoyance - admiration for maintaining a remarkable tonal consistency over God knows how many films and Phases, and annoyance for converting blockbuster filmmaking into a game of sequel-baiting crossed with “spot the reference” in place of dramatically complete character and story arcs.
This is not necessarily a bad thing - is anyone really going to vouch for the return of the Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle School of Summer Filmmaking, as opposed to even a lesser Marvel entry? - but it does kind of dull the edge of the storytelling experience when nothing’s ever really that permanent. More than each incrementally weaker and stronger individual part, the MCU is seemingly its own reason for existing, which accomplishes the odd effect in the component films of everything being important while nothing is important. This occasionally works out in the film’s favor (last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy), and as time goes on lands more often with a slight whoofing sound (this summer’s airless, galumphing Age of Ultron).
Ant-Man cares not a whit about any of the larger MCU except in the moments when it absolutely has to in order to have any semblance of a reference to the outside world, and it’s not a coincidence that these moments are by far the weakest in what is otherwise a perfectly agreeable, breezy little action comedy. In fact, the movie stumbles a little any time it has to concern itself with starting or developing a formal plot thread; the first 15 minutes of Ant-Man are so void of anything but the most basic let’s-get-this-over-with shot setups and editing, it’s unreasonably hard to hang on to the idea that the people-shaped objects on screen are supposed to be important. This despite us being introduced to just about every major character, and every plot element short of Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang, freshly out of prison and fired from his first legitimate job, deciding to jump into the robbery pool one last time and burgle the house of a man who’s out of town.
That man is Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas, and at the point of the burglary, Ant-Man more or less restarts itself; the subsequent change in tone and confidence of the whole enterprise shifts - subtly and gradually, but perceptibly. The camera has a better idea of where to point, the editing has a better idea of when to move with a character or cut from one shot to another, and the characters - well, they mostly stay the same. Rudd, though, develops a spark and an edge to his line readings that makes a fine replacement for the non-presence he was prior. Really, chop out the first 15 minutes of the movie, and the burglary would make for a pretty good opening sequence. None of Rudd’s earlier scenes (nor Douglas’, for that matter) tell us anything that we’re not able to glean with just a little bit of effort here anyway.