Ant-Man: Can Marvel Pull This One Off?

Ant-Man Poster from the Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki

It’s easy to forget that when Marvel Comics decided to start its own in-house movie studio a mere ten years ago, people thought they were crazy. It’s easy to forget that 30 scriptwriters passed on working on the first Iron Man film, thinking the project was doomed to failure. It’s easy to forget how mind-blowing the post-credits reveal of Nick Fury at the end of that movie was, and how outlandish the idea of making a superhero team-up movie seemed. It’s easy to forget that The Incredible Hulk was a dud, and that Iron Man 2 was criticized for cluttering the film with too much continuity-world-buildup instead of focusing on the plot. It’s easy to forget that when Disney bought Marvel in 2009, many fans were worried that the House of Mouse would ruin their favorite superheroes. It’s easy to forget how much of a miracle it was that The Avengers was actually a really good movie, and how much of a shock it was when the film made more than $1.5 billion at the box office.

Now, there is plenty of talk in the film press about how Marvel is changing the way Hollywood does business. Indeed, this is causing a backlash in more “traditional” Hollywood circles – at the Oscars earlier this year, Jack Black decried how there were too many superhero movies, and the Best Picture winner, Birdman, is about an actor who used to play a superhero struggling to be taken seriously as an artist.

Yet it is impossible to deny that Marvel has managed, through a little trial and error, to find a formula that works:

  1. Make movies like an assembly line, pumping out two a year and working on several films simultaneously at all times.
  2. Set all of these films in the same world, stringing them together with call-backs to other films in the series, cameos, and some world-building exposition on the side (with a willingness to quietly drop threads that fans don’t care for).
  3. Have the actors starring in these films sign contacts locking them into their roles for as many films as possible.
  4. Put a young, up-and-coming, talented director looking for his or her “big break” in charge of each film.
  5. Spend money only where doing so is necessary to improve the film – you wouldn’t guess it from all the CG and explosions, but Marvel runs a lean ship and cuts costs wherever possible.

This is why it was so shocking when Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World) had a very public falling-out with Marvel over Ant-Man.

Kevin Feige, the “grand architect” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (yes, that’s what it’s called), originally stated that he was making Ant-Man specifically to be an Edgar Wright project. Wright had participated in casting, had a draft script ready, and had already planned out some of the action scenes when he suddenly departed the project over what was dubbed “creative differences”. Marvel had to get a new director on the project in a hurry, so they went with Peyton Reed (Yes Man, The Break-Up). According to io9, the finished film still includes most of the core plot from Wright’s script, though many changes to the details.

So, after having to change directors mid-stream and rework the script before rushing to pump out this movie in time for its release date, has Marvel’s magic finally started to run out?

No, but you can see the magician’s wire.

For all of its troubled production, Ant-Man is a good movie. I have to give Marvel credit, they managed to sell me on one of the goofiest characters in their arsenal. Ant-Man’s “thing” is that he wears a special suit that lets him alter his size, allowing him to shrink down to an insect’s level, while giving him incredible strength in shrunk-mode. Also, Ant-Man can talk to ants. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that’s the kind of movie we are watching.

It's almost like somebody originally wrote this character for kids or something.

It’s almost like somebody originally wrote this character for kids or something.

But somehow, they make it work. The film makes up for just how goofy it is by giving us relatable, interesting characters to root for. The hero, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), has just been released from prison, doing time for a Robin-Hood-style “robbery in the name of justice” crime. He soon finds himself recruited by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who sees potential in Lang and wants his help to prevent his shrinking technology from falling into the wrong hands. Lang wants nothing more than to be able to see his daughter again, but his ex-wife won’t let him into her life until he has proven he can go straight and give up crime. Meanwhile, Pym and his daughter have a whole host of issues between them that are constantly interfering with their ability to stop the villain. The situation may be a literal comic book gimmick, but the emotions and relationships are deep and believable.

Also, it must be said that Ant-Man‘s visuals are impressive, especially when our hero is in miniature mode. The CG crew did a magnificent job showing a new perspective on everyday objects, as exciting action scenes take place in a bathtub, in an architectural model, and on a toy train set. The movie is also really good at playing around with the size-adjustment rules and logic, as we see some of the unintended consequences of our hero shrinking and growing, both when he intends to, and when he doesn’t. There is plenty of slapstick to go around in this movie.

Peyton Reed has, until this point, mainly worked in comedies, and it shows in Ant-Man‘s frequent use of humor. There are several comedy relief characters, and even most of the “serious” characters have funny moments. For the most part, it doesn’t feel forced, and I genuinely laughed a number of times.

Having said that, the movie is not without its flaws. You can tell that this was a movie that went through several rewrites in a hurry. In one scene, the heroes have a loud conversation in one room, then discover the villain waiting for them in the next. “Oh, no,” I thought, “They’re busted!” But no, apparently the villain didn’t hear a word they had said and wasn’t even aware they were there. Huh? Either that is one unobservant villain, or that is some sloppy writing. Furthermore, even though the emotional relationships between our characters is the movie’s biggest strength, it gets tiring after a while to be reminded of them constantly. “Yeah, I get it, Pym and his daughter have issues. Yeah, I get it, Lang wants to see his daughter. Can we please move on to the next scene now?”

I think the movie would have been stronger if Marvel had pushed back its release date a bit and given it more space to breathe, taking the time to edit these flaws out of the script instead of rushing to production. Even so, this movie did a good job with the material, and circumstances, it was given. The resulting movie is a good afternoon distraction. I give it a 7 out of 10.

One Response to Ant-Man: Can Marvel Pull This One Off?

  1. Pingback: Star Wars: The Nostalgia Awakens! | Cat Flag

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