Despite some behind the scenes drama leading up to the production, Marvel has pulled off another fan pleaser.
After Edgar Wright quit Ant-Man a few weeks before filming, the internet kicked up a big fuss with a touch of muss. It immediately transformed an exciting take on an obscure Marvel property into a controversial project that most nerds assumed would be the beginning of the end of the studios’ superhero blockbuster dominance. When the film finally arrived, it thankfully proved to be an absolute blast even if you can’t help but wonder, what if (which is also coincidentally the one Marvel comic series we can guarantee will never get a movie)?
Paul Rudd stars as Scott Lang, a charmingly likeable doofuss in full Paul Rudd mode. He’s a robber by trade and really good at it, so he’s determined to turn his life around and go straight despite rooming with his criminal buddy (Michael Pena) who has “goodhearted bad influence” written all over him. An unfortunate attempt to live the good life through a job at Baskin Robbins quickly falls apart, so he agrees to help Pena and his gang pull off a suburban robbery. Everything goes well except for the fact that the secret underground safe doesn’t contain a vast fortune, but some sort of strange suit that looks suspiciously like a superhero costume. It turns out that Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym set the whole thing up as a sting operation/audition. You see the suit is something special he designed years ago that transforms the wearer into a tiny super-powered crimefighter who can control ants (don’t ask). His shrinking technology is about to be adapted by the dastardly Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) and he needs someone to break into his old company and steal it back before it falls into the hands of Hydra. From there, Douglas and his daughter Evangeline Lilly (who is jealous she won’t be wearing the suit) train Rudd to become Ant-Man for a big ol’ heist.
So…yeah, it’s a superhero origin story which we’ve all seen far too many times before, but also a superhero heist movie which has never really been done before (screw you Suicide Squad! You’re too late). That combination of the overly familiar and the pleasantly surprising kind of defines the movie as a whole, which rapidly slingshots from feeling like a funny n’ fresh spin on Marvel formulas and yet another trip down the well. The best aspect is likely Rudd, whose combination of leading man charm with comedic self-doubt works perfectly for the first Marvel hero with a significant self-esteem problem (The Hulk doesn’t count because he’s pretty confident when he gets all “big green meanie”). Given that the generally funny Marvel Universe doesn’t have am overtly comedic hero beyond the one man sarcasm factory that is Robert Downey Jr., he should fit in quite nicely. Surrounding him, Douglas grounds it all like an old Hollywood pro much like Redford did in Winter Soldier last year, Lilly serves up plenty of spunk n’ spark with Rudd who share a nice lil’ love story that never goes too far, while Pena almost steals the entire movie away as a delightfully dumb sidekick. Only Stoll feels like a week link, but not so much through any fault of his own as much as his underwritten character feels tacked on through the Frankensteined screenplay.
Therein lies the biggest problem with Ant-Man, which anyone paying attention to the behind the scenes struggles last year could have spotted from a mile away. The problems that led to Wright walking out right before production were all related to script tampering and this movie sure bears the marks of that. The humor hops back and forth from the fast paced visual and verbal punnery of Wright to the slacker improv style of Rudd and his writing partner Adam McKay in ways that often feel awkward. Likewise, some subplots are underdeveloped and tacked on, like Lang’s broken family life or the somewhat confusing motives of the villain. For the most part, the consistent laugh rate, thrilling set pieces in miniature, and forward momentum of the heist plot keep things pumping fast enough to push aside those problems. Yet, as the movie stumbles towards setting up it’s big action climax a mishmash of tones, disconnected plot threads, and awkward tie-ins to upcoming Marvel projects almost completely derails the whole movie.
Thankfully, it all comes together for one of the most satisfying climaxes in a Marvel movie to date. While director Peyton Reed might have faced an unenviable task in replacing Comic-Con hero Edgar Wright at the 11th hour and having to Frankenstein together various versions of the script during production, there’s no denying that he nailed the thrilling tiny spectacle. After a surprisingly patient 40 minutes of character and world building, the first shrinking action scene shoves the hero down a drain and onto a spinning record for some genuinely magical comic book spectacle. By the time Ant-Man is fighting off the villain on a miniature train set in a suburban bedroom with Reed wittily cutting out from tiny action to hilariously plastic real size wideshots, there’s no denying that this character offers exciting new possibilities to the Marvel Cinematic Universe beyond the usual CGI threats from above. In fact, the combination mini-action with genuinely hilarious character comedy is so strong that it’s easy to ignore the moments that fall flat or the unfortunate white-washing of the backstory between Hank Pym and his wife that would have made for a far more compelling and disturbing 3rd act twist that certainly seems like it was part of this movie at one point.
Until someone leaks his screenplay, there’s no way of telling exactly what Ant-Man could have been. All we can do is appreciate the Ant-Man that is and thankfully it’s easily one of the most breezily entertaining Marvel movies to date, if not one of the best. In fact, the movie works so well that you can’t help but look forward to the sequel, which should be able to fix any and all awkward problems.. Ant-Man is far better than anyone could have imagined a movie based on the obscure comic book character would be. This is ultimately another victory for Marvel and given all of the pitfalls faced by the production, it’s confirmation of the continued strength of the studio rather than a sign of its imminent demise. Even though that’ll lead to less angry blogging, it is in fact a good thing for superhero movie fans, which is pretty well everyone these days.
As usual, Disney has provided this Marvel movie with the prettiest possible Blu-ray presentation. The vibrant colors pop off the screen, while the miniaturized action scenes provide impressive depth and scale. It’s a beautiful HD transfer matched only by a pounding lossless soundtrack that will explode out of any pitiful little speakers that dare to play it. Let’s face it, blockbuster production doesn’t get much glossier than a Marvel movie these days and Disney always ensures that they get the absolute best treatment on Blu-ray. This disc will give your home theater a well-deserved work out.
Unfortunately Disney and Marvel Studios aren’t quite so generous will their special features anymore. There’s a fun 14-minute featurette that blazes through production stories (obviously glossing over the whole Edgar Wright thing), a 10-minute look at all the various techniques used to pull off the miniature action sequences that’s pretty fun, a handful of deleted scenes and fake interviews/news stories that are purely curiosities, and a goof off Gag Reel that features some fantastic Gregg Turkington improvs for those who enjoy such things (aka me). So far, so ho-hum.
Thankfully there is one fantastic special feature: an audio commentary with Paul Rudd and Peyton Reed. Both of them are wisecrackers, bubbly, and positive, filled with all sorts of amusing anecdotes about making the movie. Again, there’s no dirt unearthed about whatever happened with the project before Reed’s involvement, but the two provide so many funny tales and show so much love for the character, comics, and Marvel in general that you can’t help but be excited to see what they come up with in the sequel.
Does this deserve a spot on your Dork Shelf?
Thanks to the saving grace commentary and stunning technical specs, it’s another winner disc for Marvel fanatics. No big surprise there, but hey! It’s tough to complain (even though I did).