Thursday, July 16, 2015

"Ant-Man": Average Marvel, But Better Than Expected

Now In Theaters
I firmly stand behind the assertion that Marvel Studios have yet to make a bad film.  Yes, they have made disappointing films and none of their films are without their flaws, but not a single one of their eleven films has been not worth watching, and that is a damn impressive track record.  However, with news of production difficulties after Ant-Man’s director Edgar Wright was fired from the project, the fate of Ant-Man’s quality was uncertain.  If Marvel was going to fail, this would be the film to do it in.  And yet, Ant-Man came out alright.  I doubt it will be anyone’s favorite Marvel movie, but it gets the job done while being fun and entertaining, and that’s about all we can ask of a film.

Scott Lang (played by a perfectly cast Paul Rudd) is a cat burglar freshly released from prison who is looking to start a new life and reconnect with his daughter.  After hitting snags in finding employment and having his visitation limited, Scott decides to take one last job: to steal the contents of a safe in millionaire Hank Pym’s basement.  Only it turns out that Hank (Michael Douglas) wants to recruit Scott to pull off a heist of his own.  Enter the Ant-Man suit, which allows its wearer to shrink down to insect size and have increased density to hit like a bullet.

The film plays out as a pretty formulaic heist flick.  There are montages of training with Hank’s martial artist, emotionally distant daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), the assemblage of a team of comic relief specialists (who unfortunately come off as little more than racial stereotypes), and, of course, antics with the suit while Hank teaches Scott to lead an army of ants.  (Yes, you read that right.)  This all leads up to the big third act payoff of watching everyone’s talents put to the test.  What ultimately makes this film work is its comedy, as the oddball sense of wonder in seeing the everyday world from an ant’s eye view along with the snarky witticisms of Rudd and company almost always bring levity to what is ultimately a pretty ridiculous film.

I say “almost always” because the film definitely has a couple of issues.  Edgar Wright’s influence is still present in many of the more visually interesting setpieces or audiovisual gags, and those are some of the best and most memorable of the film, but some of the dialogue gags struggle to bring a chuckle.  This is probably due to the film’s extensive re-writes that took place after Wright’s departure, and there are a couple lines that seem to have somehow made their way in to the final draft that feel a touch out of place.  There’s also an Avengers connection that feels a bit shoe-horned into the film just to give one of the more overlooked cast members a bit more screentime (and, of course, to obligatorily set up Ant-Man’s return for MCU’s Phase Three).

Ultimately, though, Ant-Man is a funny and entertaining film.  It didn’t wow me with its earth-shattering climax or any unpredictable plotting, but it wasn’t trying to either.  For once, a Marvel film isn’t about a villain of cataclysmic scale trying to commit genocide.  The stakes are considerably lower, and that’s okay every once in a while.  Sometimes you just have to sit back and enjoy a well-made (or well-salvaged) film, even if it doesn’t rise to the same heights as some of its contemporaries.

In fact, I’d probably say this is, on the whole, a better film than Age of Ultron.  Blasphemy?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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