Heroes Don’t Come Any Bigger
When studios aren’t concerned about a property they hang back and let the creative talent do all the leg work. If the film is a success, they make money and proclaim themselves geniuses, if it fails, who cares? No skin of their noses. And yet after a few successes studios can’t help but interfere. Suddenly they worry that audiences won’t return for this original and unique product unless it resembles everything else on the market. So they beat it and break it and mould it into the same generic crap we’ve been force-fed for years. Again, if it works (which it arguably will because the brand is now established) they make money and proclaim themselves geniuses, if it fails, they blame the property and say ‘this genre is dying out’ and pour less money into the franchise. Because as clever as they may think they are, producers are in no way prophetic, absolutely NOBODY knows what will be the next big thing and unfortunately Ant-Man feels like the stupid start of that interference. If it stops here, we can just pick up the pieces and move on, if not, it could be seen as the beginning of the end. A little dramatic, I know but this is a comic book film, we need a little impending doom somewhere.
In the late 80’s scientist Hank Pym [Douglas] confronts the top brass at SHIELD about replicating his shrinking technology, warning of the potential dangers this power could bring about then pugnaciously tenders his resignation. In the present day Pym has been undermined by his estranged daughter, Hope [Lilly], and former protégé Darren Cross [Stoll] both of whom are close to producing a similar shrinking formula, intent on pursuing fiscally rewarding military applications. We soon learn that Hope is effectively a double-agent and is staying close to Cross on the off chance he succeeds. Not wanting to risk his daughter’s safety, Pym surreptitiously contracts a recently released convict, Scott Lang [Rudd], to break into Cross’ lab and sabotage his operation. But don’t worry, Lang isn’t a real criminal, he never hurt anyone, he’s just a happy go-lucky Robin Hood kinda guy. So no need for any dimensional character building, outside of him trying to provide for his young daughter.
Ant-Man is a massively important release for Marvel for a handful of reasons. Originally this was going to be a small-scale breath of fresh air aside and unconnected from all the universe building that Marvel have busily been working on for nearly a decade. Avengers came out and with it a bit of fan blustering that two of the key components in the Avengers comic history were absent from the film universe: namely Hank Pym/Ant-Man and Janet Van Dyne/Wasp, especially as Pym was responsible for creating Ultron. Crossovers and cameos ensure more money and sales of toys so, of course, Ant-Man was absorbed into the MCU. And with that came studio approved rewrites and with that came the departure of the original writer (Joe Cornish) and director (Edgar Wright). The fans were pissed off, the public was concerned and the studio placated everyone’s fears with.. Peyton Reed; director of bland two dimensional crapola like Bring It On, The Break-Up and Yes Man. At one point, an Ant-Man feature may have been a great idea but since then the debate on superhero diversity runs rampant and this now feels like a waste of a decent release slot. But like The World’s End there was an overwhelming obligation to deliver on a previous promise, as if someone muttered behind closed doors, “Well we said we’d make this film, we’ll just have to punch something out.” Before everyone checked their watches and realised the deadline was fast approaching.
In fairness, Ant-Man breaks the standard Marvel formula (which to date has been a glorious success) but unlike the hit Netflix series Daredevil, replaces it with a toothless paint-by-numbers affair which lacks originality and strong helming. One can glean the original script that Wright and Cornish were working on and how it’s been shoehorned into the shared Marvel cinematic universe and for the most part, these touches work with surprising efficiency. Certain name drops feel a bit silly but nothing is completely out of place. The real problem is that the script isn’t very smart. Developments are predictable from start to finish, the dialogue is weak and expositive and the pacing is just completely off. Furthermore, to my mind, the comedy doesn’t work. Sometimes it produces a smile or two, maybe even a faint laugh (backtracking ants pushing sugar cubes, say) but overall it relies too heavily on stupid setups that ultimately fail to deliver. On the technical side, the visual effects are, for the most part, impressive with only a handful of ropey shots. But even then the direction is so vanilla and lacklustre that even the most inventive of fight scene elements fail to impress. And to top that off, Christophe Beck, whose score for Edge Of Tomorrow was absolutely superb, offers up little more than the standard background fare with a glimpse of a throwback b-movie theme.
Not wanting to admit defeat, Marvel will recycle Ant-Man until people like him. Fortunately, Paul Rudd’s inoffensive face and generally cheery presence ensure that a fair amount of heart and average-joe sincerity courses throughout and he will work well alongside the current roster. If I’m honest, I would have preferred a time-travelling Hank Pym because Michael Douglas is flat out fucking perfect in this role – but I’ll expand more on that later. But what about the peripheral characters that make up this movie? How do they fare? Badly is the short answer. Like many other Wright flicks, the f female characters are bloody awful. Evangeline Lilly does a great job but the script treats her like the unwanted daughter in a Spartan household and backbenches her in every way. And to make matters worse they turn 180 and make her a fucking love interest! “Hope’s been running around with Scott for a while now.. why aren’t they making out? Someone fix that.” Then they took an amazing and hilarious talent like Judy Greer and pulled a Jurassic World writing her as a 3-4 line background support? Utter waste of talent. And outside of the kid acting as Lang’s daughter, that is the extent of the female presence. To add to the diversity train wreck, Lang has a trio of criminal contacts who boil down to little more than backward ethnic stereotypes: a black guy that says ‘damn’, an eastern European guy who speaks in broken ‘nice to be meeting you’ English and a bumbling inept Latino guy. Admittedly these guys get the job done (in their way) but they’re not loveable scamps, they’re negative clichés, which would be sort of tolerable if Lang wasn’t so goddamned honest and noble. Acting as opposition, we have Stoll giving a menacing performance but he is disposed of so quickly and efficiently that it’s almost comical; not to mention the fact that he falls into every villain trope that should have been expelled from cinema the moment it was so sharply highlighted in The Incredibles. Oh and finally, Anthony the flying ant. Fuck Anthony. Stupid. Just.. helicopter scene, falling wing, fucking.. just.. painfully dumb.
I don’t like to mention the post credit monk’s rewards because I find them to be irrelevant to the review; the film is a standalone piece and we shouldn’t be making the biggest fuss over the final thirty seconds of tacked on footage (no matter how enjoyable or exciting they may be). Nowhere is this more prevalent than here. As the film closes we are served up a statement which we were expecting from the minute Hope Van Dyne was introduced and the other feels like an accidental clip, like watching a videotape that briefly serves up a random snippet before resuming back to what it was supposed to be showing. At this stage in the Marvel movie machine process, a passable release simply isn’t good enough. The higher they climb and the more they succeed, everyone is basically waiting for the superhero bubble to burst and Marvel to fail – because if there’s one thing the public love more than a rising star, it’s one that crashes and burns. And you’re not doing yourself any favours by releasing run-of-the-mill flak. Sure, this is undeniably better than most releases and had it been put out around the time we were seeing Iron Man 2 and Thor it would have been a sensation. But it wasn’t and it isn’t.
17th July 2015
The Scene To Look Out For:
**Spoilers abound in this paragraph**
Two scenes for you. The first is the opening flashback to 1989 with its subtle nods to the history of the Marvel universe and an amazing piece of CGI work shaving decades off the ageing Michael Douglas (bar a few frames when his head moves a little too fast). The second is the 2001: A Space Odyssey quantum realm scene. Early in the film, Pym explains to Lang that if he messes with the regulator he will keep shrinking until he passes into an existence where time and space defy our normal-sized laws of physics -which theoretically is scientifically accurate. Of course, this is a classic b-movie setup: warning “if you press this button the world will be unmade” only to later shout, “press the button that unmakes the world, it’s our only hope.” Get it? No? I have a better parallel: don’t cross the streams. So in order to defeat Cross, Lang turns off his regulator and enters the quantum realm. But how does one present this visually? Well you start off by just showing microscopic entities as huge orbs and then it gets difficult. What you need at this point is a surrealist artist. But instead they seemed to fire up an old computer from the 90’s and imitate its screensavers. And then after a few fractal images he’s just floating in some smokey nothingness. AND FIXES THE FUCKING PROBLEM WITH IMMENSE EASE AND NO NEGATIVE SIDE-EFFECTS! Fuck you, movie! Lazy!
I’ve never liked Hank Pym, every time he turns up in a comic I roll my eyes and hope he’s going to rapidly exit the way he came in. And yet Pym gives us something that the Marvel universe lacks: an arsehole. It’s common comic knowledge that Pym is a notoriously difficult guy to work with and even assaulted his wife, Janet Van Dyne. Can you imagine that guy in the mix with the Avengers? A dude who argues with the group before undermining his own wife and smacking her about the face? It would be shocking and challenging and admittedly exploitative but it would add to the nature of imperfect heroes and highlight the arrogant instability of so-called genius. Like a drunk Tony Stark with none of the roguish charm. And who better to play that guy than hothead Michael Douglas? The man was born to be Pym. He’s cantankerous, quick to anger but at the same time authoritative and commanding. He’s the kind of casting no one could understand but when seen makes clear sense. Like Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent.
“Did he just say ‘Hi, my name’s Scott’?”
In A Few Words:
“While it has its redeeming qualities, Ant-Man is a clichéd, lazy and wholly disappointing rushed assembly of mediocrity”