July 30, 2015
Ant-Man (Rated B)
Cast: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll
Genre: Action Adventure
Dwight’s Rating: 2.5 Stars
Ice cream! French fries! Bacon! Conch salad!
Regardless of their nutritional merits (or your religious beliefs), many of us would agree that most, if not all, of these foods are each pretty amazing on their own.
But if you had to throw them all together into a piecrust and bake it, the end result might not necessarily be something particularly edible; the whole being not as great as the sum of its parts, per se.
There are similar issues with the new film, “Ant-Man” — the latest in the seemingly incessant stream of releases from the massive so-called, “Marvel Cinematic Universe”. On the whole, “Ant-Man” is really not bad at all — quite enjoyable, for the most part. But there’s a pervasive feeling that it’s not as great as the sum of its parts, or as good as it could have or should have been.
The ingredients for something great are all there. Who doesn’t love the very funny Paul Rudd? The “Role Models” star just seems like such a relatable everyman. (Doesn’t he look like he’d be a really good friend in real life?)
There’s also Oscar-winner Michael Douglas. It’s great to see him back on the big screen. He’s been missed. And Evangeline Lilly – whom I loved in TV’s “Lost”, definitely should be in more movies. And hopefully this will be the start of something great for her career.
So again, the core cast has talent in spades. And the supporting cast isn’t bad either (more on them in a moment). And everything starts off promisingly.
Forced out of his own company by his former protégé, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) recruits Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a master thief just released from prison. Using Dr. Pym’s technology and science, Scott becomes Ant-Man, using a suit that allows him to shrink in size and possess superhuman strength. It also allows him to control an army of ants. But Dr. Pym’s protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has also been perfecting the same technology, and is intent of using his version, known as Yellowjacket, as a weapon of evil.
Okay! So the idea of an ant army, and someone using mind-control on these insects is funny. Downright laughable, actually! Just as funny is the thought of someone being shrunk to the size of ant as a means of conducting more effective and efficient warfare on terrorism.
This all contributes to a film that does at times seem conflicted — not knowing exactly it wants to be. Is it a comedy? Michael “Wall Street”/”Fatal Attraction” Douglas is a serious thespian, so this must be a drama filled with intrigue, right?
Of course, it’s not impossible to do all of this in one movie. One can assume the producers were aiming to be this summer’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” — another Marvel production. Last year’s blockbuster about a motley crew of misfit superheroes was essentially a parody of the often-nonsensical comic book superhero genre, and it was hilarious! It also had great special effects and fun action sequences.
However, “Guardians” self-assuredly knew that it was an action-comedy above all else, and was determined and resolved from beginning to end to be an action-comedy.
Things are not as clear with “Ant-Man”, mainly because of the charisma of Rudd, who, as mentioned, is very funny — primarily having appeared in comedies throughout his career. Most of his lines in the film are clever, cute or witty. It’s in the same light-hearted vein as “Spider-Man”. And that served that franchise relatively well.
But unlike the “Spider-Man” movies (even the lackluster “The Amazing Spider-Man” reboots) dramatic moments in “Ant-Man” are devoid of any heft or suspense. And during those “dramatic moments”, you’re not sure whether to laugh. The chuckles from throughout the theater demonstrate you’re not the only one with those thoughts. And you give in. But it’s weird!
Actually, some of the action scenes are quite funny, and were obviously not intended to be taken seriously. And midway through, you get a clear sense that, unlike in anything to do with Batman or the Tobey Maguire-era Spider-Man, nothing bad is going to happen to anyone you care about. Yet, throughout “Ant-Man” there’s this vague pretense of intense drama.
Further adding to this odd dichotomy, the villain here, played reasonably well by Corey Stoll, isn’t being played for laughs. Stoll’s Darren Cross is a mad scientist — as Marvel and most superhero movies frequently inform us that often the biggest and baddest villains are not mob bosses, gangsters or aliens, but the heads of giant corporations. When he becomes Yellowjacket, you probably won’t start to laugh at him until his to-be-expected ultimate final battle with the Ant-Man, which devolves into ridiculousness.
Strictly for laughs though are some of Scott/Ant-Man’s friends — three bumbling career criminals. Marvel seems to have no bones about feeding into stereotypes about criminals, as one’s Hispanic, one’s apparently Russian, and the other’s black. The latter is played by actor/rapper T.I., who also apparently doesn’t mind being typecast (Is he even capable of playing someone who is law-abiding?). In any event, the trio is inoffensive.
I’m not sure I can say the same, though, for this unstoppable Marvel Machine. One has to wonder when will it end! Can it? Or is this monster completely out of control? There must be a point at which we’ll all have some sort of superhero movie burnout!
At this rate, these films will end up as the Westerns of our times — overused and now rejected subject matters that someone dusts off about once or twice a decade. And in that event, Marvel would have almost single-handedly hastened their demise by seemingly cranking one out nearly every month.
Adding to the problem is that they all seem to be melding into each other. More and more they are spinoffs or related in some way, with crossovers. With “Ant-Man”, the Avengers are mentioned frequently. In fact, one is even featured; Falcon —played by Anthony Mackie, who first appeared in last year’s “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” — has a memorable cameo.
There are also numerous references to other Marvel Cinematic Universe agencies like S.H.I.E.L.D. and the sinister organization known as Hydra. While this will delight the fan-boys, others like myself who are aware of these things (because they’re being shoved down our throats), but don’t care, will respond with an indifferent sigh or eye-roll. For those not familiar, this will all sound like a load of gobbledygook! It won’t necessarily detract from the ability to enjoy the film, but it contributes to the sense of repetition.
Don’t get the wrong idea, though. I recommend “Ant-Man”. I’d rather watch this than the swollen, noisy messes that are all of “The Avengers” films or any of the “Iron Man” sequels (the original was fantastic, of course!). And I wouldn’t mind seeing more “Ant-Man”, should there be a sequel. But I do wish it had been more focused, and had fully committed to the idea of being an action-comedy.
Again, the ingredients are all there for this to become a pretty decent franchise in the right hands, especially should Rudd, Douglas and Lilly return. What’s needed, perhaps, is more time in the oven, a clear recipe, and most definitely a firm plan as to exactly what it is that’s being made.
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “ Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email email@example.com and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.
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