Annoying buzz or big entertainment?
For long term readers of my reviews you might be interested to know G.I. Joe returned to watch another Marvel movie. He comes with me to a number of these to help explain his love affair with the comics and teach me about the Marvel references in the film versions. Despite my lack of knowledge of the comic book canon it might seem shocking that he and I agreed on Ant-Man.
Marvel has a brand that’s alive and well, kicking around the confines of Ant-Man. Self-aware, goofy, snarky humor and extreme bloodless violence to create fun times for the whole family while the plight of planet earth is always at stake.
Scott Lang is a cat-burglar who gets a second chance at redemption by donning the famed Ant-Man suit developed by Hank Pym. Dr. Pym has learned how to decrease the space between molecules so that a full-sized man can shrink down to the size of an ant and still pack the wallop of the original guy. Pym’s former assistant Darren Cross is determined to figure out the secret of the shrinking formula and doesn’t care who he has to kill or what type of ultra-violent, militarized-government-run totalitarian rule he has to live under in order to sell his secret. When he finally makes the breakthrough, it’s up to Scott and his brain wave controlled army of ants to save the day and prevent Darren from auctioning the shrinking weapon over to the obviously evil Hydra organization.
Ant-Man could not have been made in yesteryear even if the comedic stylings and emotional heft feel like it’s from a bygone era of rom-coms. It’s a special effects extravaganza featuring countless scenes of Scott shrinking down and running amongst giant bugs, a forest of carpet, the innards of the city sewers, and even a child’s train set. Great pains are taken to give individual ants personalities as Scott learns to befriend them. With so much focus on the shrunken world, it would have been impossible to make this movie much earlier, even if 61 years ago THEM! came out.
Often I get annoyed when there’s too much effects-driven computer wizardry for what seems like wizardry’s sake. There were a few too many long, vertiginous flights on the tops of bugs in Ant-Man for instance. However, the movie is about a human that can shrink down so I feel the effect-laden plot is necessary to tell the story. And it does follow the newer trend of allowing women to kick butt; Dr. Pym’s daughter Hope van Dyne is some butt kicker who… never kicks any butt. Except she’s a butt kicker. Really. She is. I know she doesn’t do it in the film really, but they make sure to show she could… if given the chance.
This movie started off a little slow for me. A trend of Marvel cinema is to be so enchanted with itself that true pathos falls a little short. Soon after making it out of prison, Scott attends his daughter’s birthday, breaking his divorce visitation orders, and delivers a few good one liners only to be outdone by child actress Abby Ryder Fortson playing young Cassie Lang.
We get it, he loves his daughter. But one scene of youthful birthday party, not a fully engaged reality makes. Or the “build up” to Hank Pym revealing to his daughter how her mother died, just doesn’t feel like they earned it. In the first 15 minutes of The Equalizer a true bond is created between the protagonist and the young girl he meets at a restaurant. This drives the film forward. It’s quite a remarkable achievement in a movie that’s otherwise just an expensive excuse for action set pieces. So I know it’s possible. Unfortunately Marvel rarely gets stuff like that right for me. The first Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy managed to show true character and connection in efficient fashion but not the other films.
As the movie moves along, Ant-Man picks up steam. The A-Team-like training session in the middle of the film where Scott tries to jump through a key-hole is confidently entertaining. The ramping up to a convoluted save-the-world plan is enjoyable. And the ridiculously over-the-top fight scene in a house where small toys become large suddenly is goofy fun. But am I really supposed to believe a guy can aim a gun at a flying ant from twenty feet while shaking around in a helicopter?
G.I. Joe pointed out that we saw this movie in the best possible way. Opening night, at one of the best theaters in America (Seattle’s Cinerama), with a lively audience that laughed at all the places you’re supposed to laugh and oohed at all the moment’s you’re supposed to ooh (like Darren Cross turning a baby sheep into goo). And this is why Marvel movies are raking in tons of money. They deliver what the people want. We walked away agreeing that Ant-Man is a completely serviceable, entertaining, piece of fluff that delivers some fun laughs, some interesting effects, some exciting action, and a heaping dose of intentional schlock. But when all is said and done it goes on the shelf of movies I’m happy I saw yet don’t really need to see again.
At 117 minutes, it feels like 117 minutes. It delivered exactly what I’ve come to expect. Marvel is to film what Cheesecake Factory is to dining. And that makes a lot of people happy.