James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
Cole Clay // Film Critic
Behind all the computer generated effects and explosions the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a bit of a soft side that stresses the importance of family, unity and fighting for what you love.
With their most unlikely hero, ANT-MAN, they’ve carefully curated an over-arching storyline that can accommodate behemoth’s battling for intergalactic control of the universe, or just a simple tale of a guy in a vintage suit trying to win the affections of his daughter. But, that’s why Marvel has always found success.While ANT-MAN is shaggier than other MCU entries they have done, their due diligence to reinvent the already blueprinted superhero origin story with a comedy/heist romp.
The minuscule approach to ANT-MAN behoves the personal stakes of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who just finished a three year prison stint and is trying to get back in his daughter’s life. He’s not your typical “every man,” he’s an extraordinary guy, a cat burglar with a sense of comedic timing and some mad decent safe cracking skills. During his downward spiral, Lang catches the eye of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the inventor of “Pym Particles,” a cutting edge chemical that essentially serves as a shrink ray. Pym has since retired from his covert job and has hidden the technology from the world until his protege’ Darren Cross (Corey Stohl) recreated Pym Particles to sell to the highest bidder (which so happens to be Hydra). Rudd has the charisma, but is watered down by the surrounding elements, except when he is playing opposite Douglas (Their dynamic is one of the film’s highlights).
Pym could have have gotten his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) to suit up in the Ant-Man gear, but he chooses Lang because if things go south he’s expendable. Hope and Lang form a useless romance, but it doesn’t distract from the supposed larger role she’s promised to play in upcoming films. Also, Hope Pym has dynamite scissor kicking skills.
The younger viewers will be drawn to the “shrink ray” gimmick that makes something as innocuous as a bathtub, or a train set a playground. Lang is taught by Pym to control a legion of useful, but indistinguishable ants that are used at his disposal. This idea is in the same vein as the stop motion aesthetic— albeit upgraded— principles of the classic Ray Harryhausen (CLASH OF THE TITANS, 1981) films.
This element sounds like the work of former Edgar Wright (THE WORLD’S END, SHAUN OF THE DEAD), who left the project last May due to creative differences with the studio. Wright was replaced by the more than capable comedy director Peyton Reed (YES MAN), and reportedly, elements of his screenplay/visual style were kept in the final product after his departure, but we’ll never truly know. It’s an unfair comparison to think of Wright’s theoretical version of ANT-MAN and what ended up on the screen. And that goes for the film’s comedic timing as well. It has a snarky sense of humor that works better in moments when Lang is just hanging out with his crew of seemingly inept petty criminals (led by Michael Pena), but more often than not it flat out doesn’t work.
The blending of styles that has Wright and writing partner Joe Cornish (ATTACK THE BLOCK), clashing with the likes of Adam McKay (STEP BROTHERS) and Rudd’s script (Keep in mind none of the screenwriters worked together on the script). The mixing of styles isn’t exactly a bag of concrete in a washing machine, but that’s not saying much.
Summer films are always trying to go bigger and louder, but Reed, Rudd and the team at Marvel focus on looking down at elements most blockbusters neglect. The importance of friends and family is a lasting concept that lifts up ANT-MAN when the lackluster comedy fails to deliver.
ANT-MAN opens nationwide Friday and at participating theaters Thursday night.