Movie Review: Ant-Man
By Ben Gruchow
July 23, 2015
What happens with a refreshed energy given just enough wiggle room to pretend the movie’s only starting? We’ve got nicely-paced world building, and dialogue back-and-forth that actually sounds like people having a conversation. A lot of this is down to Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish’s sarcastic and irreverent script, but Rudd’s and longtime collaborator Adam McKay’s fingerprints are on this, too, with what I assume are the movie’s more earnest (and honestly, less-successful) character moments.
Evangeline Lilly and Corey Stoll round out the principals in the story, with Lilly playing the Marvel token female with a pronounced lack of interest in any scene that doesn’t involve Douglas’s Pym, and Stoll playing Pym’s early protégé Darren Cross. Stoll being the main villain is something the film doesn’t even pretend to conceal; in case you couldn’t guess from his placement and expression on the poster, the movie wipes out all doubt in Cross’s very first scene, with his intonation and gesticulation set to the hammiest broad interpretation of a malcontent you could hope for in a movie that’s not an open spoof. The character couldn’t announce his intentions, actions, and ultimate fate any more clearly than if he had opened his first scene by devouring a puppy. In between dialogue exchanges, Lang learns the ins and outs of being Ant-Man, and there’s just enough run time left to concoct and execute a save-the-world plot when the bad guy gets ahold of a similar suit.
This is all pretty tremendously low-stakes; rarely is there a sense of conflict, and almost never a sense of true danger. Cross is spared from being the weakest Marvel villain by virtue of Lee Pace’s Ronan from Galaxy being a thing, but he really is a non-entity - as faint and unimpressive an antagonist as you could hope for, and fairly inconsequential to the film he’s in. Even without him: when characters are in jeopardy, it’s never for very long. But you know what? I don’t think the movie was ever going for consequentiality, and it’s kind of difficult to blame a movie for not going somewhere it never intended to go.
Ant-Man reminds me in total of nothing so much as Iron Man Lite - the protagonist is loose and sarcastic in a relaxed and featherweight way, the supporting characters are all confident and easy to watch if thinly drawn, and the whole thing never really takes itself seriously or plumbs much conceptual or character depth - outside of one sequence, set up by earlier story logic, that briefly hints at a far bolder and visually audacious Ant-Man; it’s so baldly different in its progression and depiction of the environment from anything else in the immediate vicinity that it adds a pretty sizable jolt to everything around it, and even succeeds in creating some tension out of nowhere. As a whole, what we’re promised is a fairly simple origin story, and on that level the movie delivers (with a lot of the success being the result of some truly snappy chemistry between Rudd, Douglas, and Lilly).
The whole enterprise is surprisingly enjoyable, the humor is abundant and just subversive enough to sneak a chuckle or laugh out of you before you’ve realized what happened, and (this is a big one) the action sequences are visually unique and distinctive enough to stand apart from other Marvel films. It’s the second wide release of July I’ve seen, after Magic Mike XXL, that just doesn’t care as much about executing the right formal technique and showing the appropriate emphasis on dialogue and incident as it does about proceeding laconically and lightly from one point to the next. It sits comfortably in the middle of the Phase 2 films: not quite as effortless as Guardians of the Galaxy or The Winter Soldier, but more sure of its identity than Iron Man 3, and a sight better than Age of Ultron. About Thor: The Dark World, I remain rather blissfully unaware.