Last week, I took my dad to see Ant-Man for his birthday. I really enjoyed it, but I didn’t feel like I had a lot to say about it at the time. But since this week’s Screen Junkies Movie Fights included two Ant-Man rounds, I’ve given it a little more thought and in answering those questions, decided I may as well do a review and tack those questions to it.
First, the review:
I didn’t go into this movie with a lot of prior knowledge.
I never followed the comics, and I’d seen about half an episode of some cartoon my dad was watching once on Netflix. Basically, I knew Hank Pym was a guy who could get really small, talk to ants and fight bad guys with his wife. But I also knew, thanks to the previews, that this wasn’t really his story.
In a way, that’s true, but in another way, the previews lied to me.
The face and heart of the movie is indeed Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang. Much like Guardians of the Galaxy’s Chris Pratt, Rudd, who’s largely spent his time in romantic and/or raunchy comedies, was a bit of a question mark for a Marvel movie, But he performed well as a former thief turned smaller scale hero whose goal isn’t so much to save the world but to do right by his daughter after a stint in prison.
I’m not the first person to say “Ant-Man” brings a more down-home feel to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, because it does. It’s a nice breather after the grand scope of everything that’s come before it. Tonally, it has a humor that is more in line with “Guardians”, but unlike that movie, this one slides nicely into the MCU. It’s not as disconnected, and the main scene that ties it to the other movies is one of the most fun.
But if Rudd is the soul who spearheads a humor that side characters like Michael Pena then pick up and run with, the bones are Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man who created the suit and is responsible for all the science that allows Scott to go ant-sized. Now, you can’t spend as much time online as I do without running into people who are angry and want the Internet to know it. Apparently there’s a controversial story line in the comic books where Hank’s a wife beater and awful person. But much like how Marvel has glossed over Tony Stark’s alcoholism in the “Iron Man” movies, there’s absolutely none of that characterization for Hank in this movie.
But that doesn’t mean Hank is without his demons.
For personal reasons revealed throughout the movie, he left Ant-Man behind in the 80s. But now his former protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is trying to recreate his work and turn it into a military weapon. Along the way he goes a little nutty and becomes Yellowjacket, a sort of evil Ant-Man. It’s in trying to stop Cross that Hank pulls Scott into his world, much to the dismay of his own daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly).
The effects and the action in this movie are good, and not just for the sight gags of, among other things, Ant-Man and Yellowjacket fighting atop a Thomas the Tank train set. I’m continually amazed at how Hollywood can digitally de-age older actors, as they did for an opening scene in which Hank quits.
I enjoyed the story that surrounded the main plot of stopping Cross, but overall I found myself more interested in the backstory and interpersonal relationships between all the characters, including Scott and his ex-wife’s new husband (Bobby Cannavale), who’s been raising Scott’s daughter and is a delightfully normal antagonist without being a bad guy.
I’m not certain I can call Ant-Man a great Marvel movie yet, but it’s definitely a good one. And with its “Iron Man” meets “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” feel, it’s got a little something for everyone.
And now let’s fight!
If you’ve been following my Movie Fights, posts, you know that the Screen Junkies on Youtube pull together a panel of three each week to debate movie questions submitted by fans, and then I play at home by giving my answer, listening to the responses in the video and following up. Winners are picked based on the strength of the arguments. Two of this week’s questions were Ant-Man related, and my answers got a little long, so I thought I’d just break them out here. I may do a separate posts for others, or I may not.
Guests this week were Jon Bailey, the voice of Honest Trailers; Alison Haislip of Battlebots and Screen Junkies’ Hal Rudnick. On to the questions:
WHO GAVE THE BEST PERFORMANCE IN ANT-MAN?
Michael Douglas, with the caveat that he had more to work with. He was believable as a washed up secret hero who’s trying to put the genie of his creation back in its bottle, fix things with his daughter and train a new hero while being sad about things that went wrong in his past. Everyone else was good, but through no fault of their own, kind of one-note.
Mentioned in the video: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas(!), Michael Pena
Follow-up Thoughts: A lot of the argument against Michael Douglas is that so much of what made his Hank Pym great was because of the character. “You could put anybody in there and have the same character.” No, no you couldn’t. Anybody who’s ever seen a bad actor in a good role knows that’s not true.
My pick for winner: While I don’t personally agree, I think Alison Haislip made a great argument for Michael Pena.
DO WE WANT AN ANT-MAN 2?
Granted, part of this depends on the character’s role in Civil War, but I’d say yes. So much of Ant-Man was just learning how to make the suit work and reacting to an immediate situation. I want to see what Scott Lang is like as an established hero. I want to see a current generation of the Pym era Ant-Man/Wasp team-up, and I want to see how how Hank Pym himself still relates as the former Ant-Man (and dad of Nu!Wasp). And I just think that’s too much to cram into what is ostensibly a Captain America movie, even if it’s already being referred to as Avengers 2.5.
Mentioned in the video: Yes, but it should be a Hank Pym prequel. Yes, and it should be a true sequel. No.
Follow-up: “There are so many other important films on the docket…” Are there? Really? Or are there movies that Marvel thought it could make money on?
Sure, there’s the argument that the MCU is correcting a lack of diversity by giving us a Black Panther movie and a Captain Marvel movie, but having black and female characters hasn’t been a problem with the MCU. Making use of the ones we have has been. I think you could easily eliminate Captain Marvel from that slate if you did a sequel to this but put Wasp on equal footing with Ant-Man, which also creates the opportunity for a dynamic that hasn’t really been explored in the MCU before.
We’ve had stand-alone Marvel movies. We’ve had big ensemble casts. But we haven’t had a lot of two heroes working side-by-side (especially if Scott and Hope have become an item in the interim). You get a little bit in Iron Man 2 and 3, between Stark and Rhodey, but not only is that relationship different, it’s eclipsed by all of Tony’s issues. Captain America: Winter Soldier comes a little closer with Cap and Nat, but it’s still not the same, because there’s so much else going on. I like the smaller feel of Ant-Man, and I think a sequel that also is not as grand in scope as its predecessors allows for more of the character stuff that we got in Ant-Man.
As a prequel: While I do think that could be interesting, I feel like I got enough in the flashbacks and news reels of Ant-Man. And as Alison mentioned in her argument, I don’t want to see somebody Paul Rudd’s age playing Hank Pym. I’m sold on Michael Douglas as that character. And while digitally de-aging older actors worked for its scene here, and it worked (quite well) in Tron: Legacy, I don’t think it would hold up for the main character of an entire movie.
My pick for winner: Alison and I were fighting on the same side, but I like my argument better.
Watch the video to see how my arguments stack up, and let me know if you agree or disagree with my choices.
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