Marvel Movie Club: Ant-Man is held back by 2 major problems
As we count down to the long-awaited uber-team-up Avengers: Infinity War (out April 27), EW’s Marvel Movie Club is preparing by revisiting the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe in the weeks leading up to the mega-sized movie. EW will revisit one Marvel movie a week, every week, to reassess its powers and hopefully answer important questions along the way like “What was The Incredible Hulk?” “Does Nick Fury wash his eye-patch?” and “Is there a point to Hawkeye?” This week, EW’s Chancellor Agard takes a microscopic look at Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man.
Look, I like 2015’s Ant-Man. For the most part, it’s fun and verges on carefree in a couple of moments. Paul Rudd is expectedly charming as Robin Hood-esque thief-turned-shrinking superhero Scott Lang; Michael Douglas joins Ben Kingsley as another upper-case “Actor” in a Marvel movie who doesn’t feel like he’s just phoning it in; Michael Peña brings a childlike excitement to every scene he’s in and basically runs away with the movie by the end of it (if Marvel wanted to just release several shorts of Luis telling long-winded stories that feature digressions about his wine and artistic tastes, I’d be fine with that); and of course, the action scenes are just pretty fun because Ant-Man’s shrinking powers make him a visually interesting and unlike anything else we’ve seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. Honestly, while rewatching the Peyton Reed-directed flick this week, I was surprised I didn’t feel an urge to fast-forward through any of it because it zips along at a steadier pace than the first two Thor movies (114 and 112 minutes, respectively) and The Incredible Hulk (112 minutes) even though it’s a few minutes longer.
All of that being said, there were two major problems that make it a perfectly fine movie instead of a pretty good one — and we’re going to talk about them below. (Disclaimer: I have other issues with the movie, but I’m going to ignore the rest in order to enjoy myself.)
1. The clunky continuity building
As my learned colleague Darren Franich points out, Ant-Man begins with one of the worst scenes in MCU history: A computer-generated young Michael Douglas storming into the mid-construction Triskelion to yell at Howard Stark (John Slattery), Peggy Carter (MCU Hayley Atwell sporting a lot of old-age makeup), and a few other S.H.I.E.L.D. bigwigs about using his technology. It’s a scene that screams, “Don’t worry, audience, this is definitely a Marvel movie! See, we have S.H.I.E.L.D.” Sure, the scene also establishes that scientist Hank Pym (Douglas), who developed the Ant-Man technology and used it to fight during the Cold War, is worried about his genius invention falling into the wrong hands, but the script could’ve set that up in a number of less boring and uninspired ways. Maybe through a flashback between Hank and his apprentice-turned-bland corporate villain Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), which would’ve also fleshed out their relationship and still given them a chance to show off their fancy CGI de-aging skills? But no, instead, we get this S.H.I.E.L.D. scene, which betrays the studio’s lack of faith in such an unknown character.
Alas, the film’s cinematic universe crimes don’t end there. We also have the mid-movie sequence when Hank sends Scott to steal some technology from an old Stark storage warehouse. However, there’s a surprise waiting for him there: Falcon (Anthony Mackie). And of course, fighting ensues, and I’ll admit that it looks cool. But, like the opening scene, this was one wasn’t necessary either! This scene feels like it was the result of one of those pesky studio notes about needing yet another reminder that this is indeed an MCU movie, because the logo, lame central villain, and unwillingness to take the superheroics too seriously didn’t give it away. Admittedly, the film does kind of redeem itself by the end because Ant-Man’s encounter with Falcon leads to yet another of Luis’ hilarious and winding stories. In case you forgot, Falcon starts looking for Scott because he needs him to join Team Captain America in Captain America: Civil War, and word obviously gets back to Luis.
Those two aforementioned scenes make the movie’s other allusions to the greater universe a bit more annoying. At one point, Scott asks Hank why he doesn’t just ask the Avengers to help out. Hank begins ranting about how he doesn’t want his technology falling into the hands of a Stark and throws shade at both the Iron Man suit and what the Avengers just did in Age of Ultron — in case you forgot, it’s all connected! Oh, and later on, Hydra ends up being one of the people bidding on Darren Cross’ Yellowjacket technology because why the hell not throw them into the mix, too? With every MCU allusion — both big and small — I was reminded once more that this was just another product off the Marvel assembly line.
2. The Hope van Dyne problem
In Ant-Man, Hank hires Scott to steal and destroy Cross’ Yellowjacket technology because he doesn’t want his Pym Particle work to fall into the wrong hands. Hank does this even though his formerly estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who works alongside Cross at Pym Technologies, alerts him to Cross’ research and offers to help him stop Cross. Hope is smart, a highly trained fighter, and knows how to communicate with the ants. Based on the evidence the movie gives us — and the fact that she’s responsible for training Scott — she would have no problem learning how to use the Ant-Man suit. But no, Hank gives Scott this task because it’s a dangerous mission and he’s worried about his very competent daughter’s safety, especially since he already lost his wife Janet (who will be played by Michelle Pfeiffer in this year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp) to the quantum realm.
Hank’s desire to protect his daughter ends up undermining Lilly’s character and reminded me of my biggest problem with several superhero properties like Smallville, The Flash, and Arrow. On all of those shows, the female leads are kept in the dark about the heroes’ caped extra-curricular activities and are forced to sit on the sidelines because the men in their lives don’t trust that they can take care of themselves or handle the secret. Thus, they often feel less integral to the plot and like they’re stuck in a holding pattern waiting for something to happen instead of being story-driving forces in their own right. Sure, Hope isn’t in the dark in Ant-Man and never has to be saved, but she has to train Scott and then watch from the wings as he does a job she could do, too, which isn’t that much better. Lilly does a great job of channeling Hope’s frustration over having to train Scott. So good, in fact, that you also become frustrated because you just want to see her out in the field.
This issue prevents me from loving this movie because, in the end, I start to resent the character of Scott Lang in the same way that I hate Josh Radnor’s character on Rise. In case you aren’t watching, NBC’s new musical drama tells the story of (and I’m being purposefully reductive here) about an unqualified white English teacher named Lou Mazzuchelli (Josh Radnor) who steals the school’s theater program from the definitely more qualified Ms. Tracey Wolfe (Rosie Perez), a woman of color who just took over the drama department after working there for 11 years. Whether or not you continue to watch Rise depends on how much you can ignore this very big transgression. In Ant-Man, Scott doesn’t actively go after the Ant-Man role even though he knows Hope is far better suited for it, but that doesn’t make the film any less frustrating to watch.
In the mid-credit scene, Hank gives Hope a super shrinking suit of her own. It’s supposed to be satisfying — fans will see Hope as the Wasp in the next movie. But really, it’s a reminder of what a missed opportunity Ant-Man was.
- The other members of Scott’s crew — T.I.’s Dave and David Dastmalchian’s Kurt — were also great and funny minor characters.
- “But there was a rosé that saved the day…” I love Luis.
- Let’s revisit Luis’ other great story:
Next Week: Avengers: Family Feud