MarvelBlog Retro Review: Ant-Man
The 1990s were a strange time for entertainment lovers. Finally, the internet allowed us to know enough about international trends that we could follow them.
Gaining access to such programming proved tricky, though. I have vivid memories of ordering Battle Royale from a website that wasn’t in English, hoping I’d get the right thing.
Similarly, a friend in England sent me DVDs of obscure titles like the esoteric show for sci-fi fans called…Spaced.
When Edgar Wright finally reached America, the director couldn’t believe how much awareness he had here. It was enough to earn him a gig in the MCU.
Alas, Wright proved a poor fit with the restraints of Marvel management, leaving fans to wonder what kind of movie he would have made.
In the broad strokes, we know, as Wright maintained a story credit on the project someone else directed.
Today, let’s talk about Ant-Man, the comic book movie nobody wanted, starring the actor everyone adores.
The Genius and the Thief
In Marvel stories, Hank Pym proved so brilliant that he has scientific stuff named after him…specifically Pym Particles.
Alas, Pym is also an even more arrogant version of the Tony Stark archetype, and his character turned irredeemable after he beat his wife.
Marvel eventually replaced Pym in the role of Ant-Man, using a criminal named Scott Lang instead.
Technically, this new character, Scott Lang, existed before Pym assaulted his wife. Still, the unforgivable action caused fans to favor the criminal over the brilliant scientist.
The dichotomy between the two proved the ideal entry point for a comic book movie that literally nobody needed.
The concept of Ant-Man as a superhero is moronic, and Marvel knew this. That’s why Pym also became Yellowjacket and Giant-Man.
Nobody expected Edgar Wright to tell a straight story about Ant-Man. Instead, fans relished the thought of a subversive takedown of superheroes.
Alas, Wright’s replacement, Peyton Reed, had already directed a superhero franchise, Fantastic Four, and he’d played the story painfully straight.
As such, switching out Wright for Reed seemed like a worst-case scenario to many, myself included.
However, we failed to factor in a different part of the production. Everyone loves Paul Rudd.
For all its ridiculousness, Ant-Man lets Paul Rudd be charming for the body of two hours. Nobody could ever complain about that.
The fact that he has *snicker* the powers of an ant…well, let’s all agree to overlook that part. It’s still Paul Rudd, dammit!
In another bit of clever casting, the always-divisive Michael Douglas portrays Pym, someone so obstinate that even Howard Stark finds him a bit much.
Being Scott Lang
To Wright’s credit, he stacks the deck here. Lang portrays a well-liked ex-con stuck working at Baskin-Robbins despite having a Master’s degree in Engineering.
Well, he works there for a while. As we soon learn, “Baskin-Robbins don’t play.”
Lang will do whatever it takes to remain close to his daughter, Cassie. This love will somehow save the universe one day.
Of course, Lang’s not the only Ant-Man with a daughter. Evangeline Lilly elevates all her scenes as Janet van Dyne, whose mother is missing.
When this film announced its casting, I remember that I was most excited about Corey Stoll, who had just turned in a sublime performance as Hemingway in Midnight in Paris.
Alas, his work in Ant-Man never quite pulls me in the way that the best MCU villains should.
Stoll portrays Darren Cross, whose life’s ambition is to create an Ant-Man knockoff suit called Yellowjacket. So he very casually murders a guy to prove he’s serious.
I find the whole thing a bit lazier than the MCU usually allows. Still, I do admire Lang’s interactions with other ex-cons.
These folks later form a business called X-Con Security, but they’re purely criminals looking for a score here. They’re the devils on Lang’s shoulder.
Michael Pena receives the best bit of any sidekick thus far in Marvel movies. He’s a storyteller whose explanations virtually vibrate with kinetic energy.
The other co-stars, David Dastmalchian and the since-canceled T.I. Harris, do admirably well with limited opportunities.
Still, this story belongs to Rudd, who accidentally steals an Ant-Man costume and proceeds to have the time of his life.
DC would later steal this bit with Shazam. In both films, an unlikely hero relishes the opportunity to use superpowers.
This is children’s fantasy thinly disguised as big-budget action cinema.
The Problem with Pyms
You may have noticed that Pym’s daughter has taken her mother’s last name instead. This is because Pym’s just that much of a jerk.
I mean, if you’ve watched What If…?, that’s a recurring theme in season one. Among the Avengers, he’s the one most likely to betray the others.
Lang’s different. Despite his criminal nature, he’s inclined to do the right thing. For this reason, Janet finds herself drawn to him despite herself.
The two don’t flirt as much here as they do in the sequel, but it’s readily apparent that they will inevitably couple.
Lilly indisputably treasures the opportunity to play the one person in the world who disapproves of Paul Rudd. Of course, she hates Michael Douglas as well, which is more relatable.
Over time, we learn about the power of Pym Particles. They allow people to grow larger or smaller in stature.
Also, someone with a helmet can control ants. This aspect is where I miss Wright the most, as Reed tries to take the powers more seriously.
Sure, the director mines Lang’s relationship with the ants for some laughs, but he leaves too much on the table.
The funniest scene involves a fight with one of the Avengers, who treats someone called Ant-Man as dismissively as you’d expect. He regrets that.
Reed utilizes the same trick that Joss Whedon did with Hawkeye in The Avengers.
By having a respected Avenger struggle in solo combat against Ant-Man, the story legitimizes the character.
Notably, Ant-Man leans hard into Lang’s criminal nature as well. He pulls multiple heists in the film and even uses his ant army to infiltrate a secure facility.
These sections work reasonably well, although I never can take them seriously.
An Honest Review of Ant-Man
I view Ant-Man as Marvel’s most egotistical attempt thus far. It’s like the studio wanted to prove that it could make any character compelling.
That doesn’t quite happen with Scott Lang on the first attempt. However, his later appearances in the MCU work because…well, it’s Paul Rudd.
This film doesn’t have enough meat on the bone to satisfy me. I don’t actively dislike any of it, but it’s just so stupid on the whole.
Ant-Man does better than it should due to exceptional casting. Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, and Wood Harris all appear in smaller roles.
So, there’s a LOT of people I like in this film. But, unfortunately, despite their efforts, Ant-Man never provides much of a payoff.
Stoll fails as a mustache-twirling, damsel-distressing over-the-top villain. And the Yellowjacket suit looks genuinely absurd.
There’s a reason why you’ve never seen anybody wearing this outfit at Comic-Con or Halloween.
Then, there’s the toy trainset battle in Cassie’s bedroom. Edgar Wright might have made this work, but it was beyond Peyton Reed’s skill set…and I say that as the world’s biggest fan of Down with Love.
Rudd comes across well as a caring weekend dad who wants to earn his daughter’s respect.
Overall, Ant-Man is charming, fluffy, and utterly disposable. That’s fine, but it’s undoubtedly bottom-tier MCU as well.
I gave it a B+ in 2015, and I now view that as overly generous. Still, better days are ahead for Scott Lang, future savior of the MCU.
You really should just watch Rudd in Clueless, though. It’s the superior movie.