Monday, August 10, 2015

Review: Ant-Man

Technically, this review is really late because it's been some time since I've seen Ant-Man.  However, rather than immediately rush home and type up my impressions, there was a thought I had that made me hesitate.  I wanted to think about it some more, mull over what it means, and consider what it means for superhero movies as a whole.

But here it is, my review of Ant-Man.

So, let me see if I can make a brief checklist of the things I saw in this movie:

1) A lead character who is very skilled at what they do but can't seem to ever take anything too seriously.

2) Father issues.

3) A new paternal figure who enters a main character's life and instructs him on the importance of being the best he can be.

4) A strong female character who takes on something akin to a motherly role for the lead but you know there's going to be feelings developing between her and the lead by the end despite how they bicker.

5) A bad guy with strong, almost "familial" ties to a main character, with there being a strong father/son connection made through the movie.

6) Said bad guy gets a weaponized suit not too unlike the hero's suit, manages to figure out how to use it in all of a few minutes, and challenges the hero to combat.

7) Said villain loses because of a moment earlier in the film that he wasn't around for telling us about an ability/weakness of the suits in general.

8) A slapstick-ish training sequence that involves the hero failing in an entertaining way that would probably have caused serious bodily harm.

Here's the thought that kept reappearing in my mind as I watched this movie: "I've seen this movie before.  Once, it was called Iron Man."

Does that mean I didn't like it?  No, not at all.  In fact, as someone I know told me, this might be the most accessible superhero movie to people who don't like superhero movies.  It doesn't take itself too seriously, it has a lot of fun with how absolutely ridiculous the entire idea of the story is, and the actors do a fine job throughout it.

I just...I don't know.  We had some interesting takes on what a "superhero" movie could be with the Captain America sequel being more "political action thriller" than "punching people in power suits," the Guardians showed us that there could be a huge outer space adventure that would still qualify as a "comic book movie."  Even the Avengers sequel had some quiet moments where it discussed some big issues, such as "where does your duty begin and end," "where do we put the limits on our power," and "how can we make the Black Widow simultaneously awesome and yet still need to be the only character who needs to be rescued from captivity through the whole film?"

Ant-Man is a touching story about two fathers trying to do the right thing to make the world safer for their daughters (even if one is a bit overly protective), but while there was so much I loved about the movie, I left the theater a bit disappointed.

Let's talk about what I did like.  First off, the cast.  Paul Rudd is undeniably charming as Scott Lang, an ex-con sent to prison for committing a crime to help other people. He plays Scott Lang as a very Paul Rudd-ish person, something that wouldn't be out of place from Clueless, Knocked Up,  or Definitely, Maybe.

Yes, I know Paul Rudd wasn't in Definitely, Maybe.  But how many of you knew that?  Please don't email me to let me know.
Martin Sheen is also sharp as Hank Pym, a man who's seen it all, lived it all, and isn't too impressed by what he's seeing now.  He's cold, firm, and determined, but you can still see the softness he has for his daughter as well as the scar he has from what happened with her mother.

Evangeline Lilly- hold on, didn't she play the really capable female elf in the Hobbit movies?  I'm sensing a theme here- is pretty good as Hope, Hank Pym's daughter.  She really doesn't do much, and the movie likes to talk her up as being a lot more capable than Scott which is absolutely fine, but it creates an interesting problem.  One, if she is so much better than Scott (and the training montage would let us believe it), it really doesn't make much sense for her to not be able to prove it more during the movie.  If she isn't more capable, than it's a lot of talking instead of showing, and movies should know better than that.

Corey Stoll is fine as the villain.  Really, that's about it.  He's not particularly memorable compared to, say, Obadiah Stane, Loki, Ultron, or Robert Redford, but he's at least as good as Malekith or Ronin.  I guess.  Except Malekith and Ronin were visually interesting outside of a suit of armor, so I guess that means he just sort-of ranks there with Sam Rockwell's Justin Hammer.

I mean, seriously, you made an Ant-Man movie and didn't put in a single reference to the Scarlet Beetle?

Right, because a talking raccoon, tree, and action star Chris Pratt make so much more sense.
Where was I?

Oh, right.  Anyway, the cast is fine, the special effects are pretty amazing (green screens and CGI have come a long way), and the story was standard, but that last bit is part of the problem.

Ant-Man did a lot to make itself more approachable to people who might not really be "in" to superhero movies.  They let the main character have a family, they show him struggling to make do after being released from prison, and I get that this is happening on the west coast as opposed to New York (hence why a released convict isn't immediately turning to crime and getting his face punched in by Daredevil), I think it plays itself a bit too loose in some scenes (primarily ones where they try to let Michael Peña steal the show, which he almost does with the help of some clever dubbing) that make it more "comedy heist" than "superhero movie."

Which I'd completely be in favor for, except it doesn't stick with it.  In the end, it turns into the ending of a standard superhero movie with two guys in armored suits beating each other up (albeit with a few more comedic moments tossed in).  There's actually an ending I can think of that would be better than the one they put into the movie, and it would have left things a bit more open, but there's probably a reason I'm not a big time script writer.

The movie's fine.  It's approachable, it's funny, and it has some solid acting, I just wish it could have done more to stand out from the standard formulaic superhero film that seems to be made these days.  I would have loved to have seen more done with the smaller scale characters and settings, but maybe some day we'll get a sequel and we'll get to dive in further to the lore.

I mean, come on, there's at least three plot threads I can think of still waiting to be resolved, and if you just mash them into another Marvel film, then it really defeats the purpose of trying to make this one stand our as you did.

But seriously.  I liked it.  Go see it.  Eat some popcorn and have fun.

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