Directed by: Peyton Reed || Produced by: Kevin Feige
Screenplay by: Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, Paul Rudd || Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Pena, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Anthony Mackie, Wood Harris, Judy Greer, David Castmalchian
Music by: Christophe Beck || Cinematography by: Russell Carpenter || Edited by: Dan Lebental, Colby Parker Jr. || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 117 minutes
I think Chris Stuckman said it best when he remarked in his review of the same film how, when he was little, he wondered if Spider-Man would ever get a feature film adaptation, and how silly he felt in retrospect now that seemingly ever single superhero is getting one, no matter how obscure or previously unknown by the public consciousness they may have been. Believe it or not, Age of Ultron (AoU, 2015) was not the final installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) “Phase 2;” that honor actually goes to this Paul Rudd-starring, Petyon Reid-drected, Edgar Wright-written Ant-Man vehicle; even more amusing and unbelievable is how this minor standalone, the second MCU film to not feature any of the principal established Avenger-cast, actually bests the recent Ultron-sequel, and rather easily at that.
To be fair, AoU was a bloated, dragging behemoth of a Hollywood tentpole feature, and may well go on to be my most disappointing film of the year, so compliments to Ant-Man (AM) for beating that is not exactly exalted praise. Moreover, AM’s warm yet apathetic reception by critics (it now rests at a 80% positive on Rottentomatoes.com), adds to my growing cynicism of the mainstream’s ability to take comic book-movies seriously on any level, whatsoever. But I digress…
On to Ant-Man, the movie.
By far the most controversial aspect of this movie’s development (other than the fact that it got made in the first place) was original director, Englishman Edgar Wright’s, departure from the project in May 2014 after completing three drafts of the movie’s script, shooting test-footage as early as July 2012, and seeing the film through pre-production since October 2013. He and co-writer, friend, and countryman Joe Cornish (e.g. Attack the Block ) remain credited with screenplay and/or story credit, respectively, but Wright ended up being replaced by Peyton Reed after citing creative differences with Marvel Studios.
What’s interesting about this is how Marvel followed up Wright and Cornish’s drafts with additions from lead actor Rudd and Adam McKay. Rudd has been a supporting or lead actor in numerous high-profile comedies over the years (e.g. The 40-Year Old Virgin , Role Models , I Love You, Man ), and McKay is of course known for his numerous collaborations with Will Ferrell (e.g. Anchorman , Talladega Nights ). All these production inputs from Rudd, McKay, and Wright (e.g. Shaun of the Dead , Hot Fuzz , Scott Pilgrim vs. The World ) make it very obvious Marvel aimed all along for a comedic, self-aware slant with AM, much more so than the rest of the MCU, which was already full of lighthearted tone and quips to begin with. Even the first posters of the film emphasized the movie’s goofy conception and obscurity with regards to the general public.
On the one hand, going the whole nine yards and making the goofy movie-adaptation of Ant-Man a full-on action-comedy hybrid in place of the reigning Marvel formula of “action plus some comedic elements” was clearly the right move, as the final product is extremely toned down in terms of scope and scale compared to the rest of the MCU; the film’s action is more coherent, grounded, and believable, and boasts far less unnecessary CGI compared to any of the previous franchise canon as a result; it’s also much funnier than any MCU movie to date, which should come as no surprise given the cast and writing talent.
On the other hand, Wright’s departure from the project and the final film’s lack of anything remotely resembling comedic excellency calls into question, once again, Marvel’s commitment to cinematic auteurship and their willingness to value the quality of individual installments over the economic domination of their brand. AM is a fun film, a damn funny one at times, but it’s a far-cry from the comedic genius of Wright’s best work and more in line with the average intelligence of a generic laugh-out-loud Hollywood buddy-comedy. It’ll be sure to please general audiences and hardcore fanboys, but those of us with tastes beyond generic popcorn entertainment or comic fandom will, once again, be left wanting more.
AM’s best parts are when it deviates from standard MCU formula and embraces elements of its script that were clearly written or inspired by Wright’s style. Michael Pena is a comic powerhouse in this movie, and his funniest parts are his extended flashback sequences of voiceover-exposition that recall Wright’s fast-paced, energetic editing and focus on visual humor. This extends to large parts of the action cinematography as well, for watching one or two super-suited characters shrink and expand at will while pummeling their foes (or each other) only to climax on a collision of toy trains never gets old.
What keeps Ant Man pinned down is the predictable stuff: The ho-hum plot, the unnecessary and generic “strong female character/love interest,” the one-note villain with unbelievable or unexplained motives, the poor pacing, and endless references to —- what else? — The Avengers! These two sides of Ant Man, the funny and original action-comedy elements juxtaposed with the generic comic book world-building and greater Marvel allusions, create a clashing tonal structure and rhythmically shaky story that makes the movie feel like it’s two different stories. You can sense Ant Man is trying to burst out of that restricting, dare I say suffocating Marvel formula, but it can’t quite break free. That being said, again this is a perfectly passable summer blockbuster that stands at above-average quality when it comes to the MCU as a whole, believe it or not, and it’s a guilt-free way to kill two hours of your time. Still, I must repeat myself in stating how I continue to walk into these MCU features hoping to experience more than that, and I continue to be disappointed.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Ant Man features plenty of solid visual humor, which derives from well used special effects, physical gags, and creative set-pieces or editing techniques to create comedy, rather than the lightly edited, dialogue-based improv on which the majority of the modern Hollywood comedy (and the MCU) depend. Ant Man also boasts decent, restrained action, as well as a strong supporting cast (besides Evangeline Lilly).
— However… Ant Man was written by four different people and feels that way; several supporting characters are bland or underwritten; the MCU’s canon continues to drag down it’s individual installments. Evangeline Lilly continues to be terrible in her post LOST (2004-2010) career.
—> ON THE FENCE
? At least this movie bothered to explain why none of the other Avengers couldn’t swoop in and immediately solve all the film’s problems. Oh wait, I don’t care!
Compared to GI Joe and Transformers, Marvel’s ,film-as-product-placement’ business strategy* has a lot going for it, but when the film starts to displace the product they’re always going to rein it in, which ultimately undermines the film’s integrity. Sounds like that might be the case with Ant Man. (I aven’t seen it yet.)
I suppose a lot of writers see big film franchises like this as a double edged sword. Big beast on the old CV, but writing with one hand tied behind their back.
(*I’m presuming Marvel are using the films to suport and promote sales of their comicbook core business.)
Well they’re using it to make the almighty dollar, at the end of the day; I don’t think they rightly care whether it comes from their comic book products or their movie ones.
That being said, I think you hit the nail on the head when it comes to the double-edged sword of franchise canon the size of the MCU, though I’d argue that DES extends to the directors, stars, and most anyone highly billed on any of these films. On the one hand it’s a guaranteed high-profile moneymaker and looks good on the CV, as you said, but it’s a potentially huge commitment that will always push the brand name over the individual talent and even the individual movies.