Movie Review: Ant-Man
By Matthew Huntley
July 21, 2015
Late in Ant-Man, there is a gun standoff between the good guys and the bad guys, during which one of the bad guys sighs and says, “Here we go,” as if he was expecting such an incident to take place - that it was just a matter of time.
This was essentially my reaction to the entire movie, which sticks so rigidly to the modern superhero movie structure, particularly Marvel’s, that I simply expected each and every scene and development to take place - that it was just a matter of time. Unfortunately, this means Ant-Man offers little in the way of surprises.
It’s not that I didn’t sense a valid effort being made with the production, but I also couldn’t help but think the filmmakers and studio were simply checking Ant-Man’s origin story off the list just so the character could hurry up and join the Avengers. As a result, I left the screening not especially curious about what they’re going to do with Ant-Man next or that he was particularly interesting, which is problematic for any title figure.
Not that Ant-Man couldn’t be interesting. After all, he’s a likable guy with relatable problems who happens to wear a highly specialized suit that shrinks him down to size of an ant, yielding him super strength and agility (“you’ll be like a bullet”, he’s told). He can also communicate with a variety of ant species, from the crazy kind that sting their enemies, to fire ants, who can ban together to build bridges, ladders, etc. The ants become Ant-Man’s personal army and aid him during his heroic missions, which was a refreshing aspect since superheroes tend to work alone.
But as a movie, Ant-Man settles on merely setting its hero up and executing a typical good vs. evil plot. We meet the usual players: Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), the ordinary, down-to-earth electrical engineer whose side talent for burgling catches the attention of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Back in 1989, Pym worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. and developed a shrinking formula that made the Ant-Man suit possible. However, following the untimely death of his wife, Pym feared the suit was too dangerous and would ultimately do more harm than good should it ever fall into the wrong hands. He resigned, took his formula with him, and went into hiding.
Years later, in the present day, Pym’s estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and his once-promising protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) are on the verge of replicating the formula with a project Darren calls “Yellowjacket.” But it’s obvious Darren is letting his own ambition and megalomaniac tendencies get the better of him, and we know it’s also just a matter of time until Ant-Man and Yellowjacket face off.
Until then, Pym recruits Scott, who’s just been released from San Quentin Penitentiary for burglary (“not robbery,” he stresses, which involves hurting people). Pym wants Scott to don the Ant-Man suit, break into Darren’s lab, and steal Yellowjacket in order to save the world from chaos and war. Scott is reluctant at first but then sees this as an opportunity to do good so his ex-wife (Judy Greer) and her police-officer fiancé (Bobby Cannavale) will grant him visitation rights to his five-year-old daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson).
And so, following a standard movie training montage, Scott learns to harness the suit and becomes Ant-Man. To help him to break into Darren’s lab, he enlists not only his trusted ants, but also his former burglar associate, Luis (a droll Michael Peña), and Luis’ two goofy friends, Kurt (David Dastmalchian) and Dave (T.I.). The operation becomes a full-on team effort and the movie an amalgamation of superhero and heist picture, replete with a foregone father-daughter reconciliation between Pym and Hope and a romantic relationship between Scott and Hope. And to give you an idea of just how eager this movie is to connect to Marvel’s Avengers franchise, there’s a scene where Ant-Man tests his new skills by breaking into the Avengers headquarters and has a confrontation with Falcon (Anthony Mackie).
If anything I’ve written in my plot summary surprises you in any way, then you’ve probably not seen a lot of superhero movies in recent years, which seems darn near impossible this day and age. But it also gives you an advantage over me because you’re likely to enjoy Ant-Man more than I did since the material will seem fresher and more exciting. This isn’t to say I don’t think it has the capability of being enjoyable - director Peyton Reed infuses it with a lot of humor and a cheerful disposition; the special effects are neat and convincing; and the actors are charming and funny and share enough touching moments together.
But I’m afraid the value of Ant-Man is dependent on how familiar you are with the genre and whether or not you’re tired of it, and this shouldn’t be the case. Ideally, Ant-Man would come across as fresh and exhilarating no matter what experience you bring to the table, but it fits into its superhero mold all too well and doesn’t give itself any room to move about freely and try new things. Instead of feeling a sense of awe, I simply sat back and watched the movie go through the motions, all while hoping something more interesting would happen. When nothing did, it’s not that I didn’t like it, but it left me with little reason to think Ant-Man himself would be developed much beyond this initial installment before being relegated a side character in the next Avengers movie. This may be enough for some viewers, but I’m at a point in my superhero movie-watching days where I need even these “basic” origin stories to be less basic and go beyond their usual scope. And because they’re so prolific, I think it’s just a matter of time before we all feel this way.