Ant-Man (Peyton Reed, 2015)

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The Top Secret World of Ant-Man

I kept thinking. That this could have been funnier like Shaun of the Dead. That this could have been geekier like Scott Pilgrim. That there could have been more inventive fight scenes—had Edgar Wright stayed to finish what he started. Just take Luis’ (Michael Peña) crafty way of telling his stories, for example, or the many times where Ant-Man fights, shrinks and puffs up—all of which could have been much much more engaging with Wright at the helm. I was thinking of things Marvel could have done to address this issue—this lack of panache on the director’s end. Perhaps, they should have made poor Scottie steal some sugar cubes like Arrietty and her Dad in that Ghibli movie. And made this a heartwarming children’s movie. Or better, made him watch Ms. Marvel (Brie Larson) while she . . . she . . . wait, she isn’t even introduced yet in this universe, so that would not be possible.

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What we got is a movie that follows the basic premise of Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man (a version of the movie that, sadly, we’ll not be able to see). Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man and a scientist who distrusts Howard Stark (and by extension Iron Man and his cohorts), wants to pass the torch to a protege. And that protege is Scott Lang, a well-meaning thief, an ex-con who needs to secure a job for his young daughter Cassie. And it’s also a heist film that has Lang and lots and lots of ants break and enter a highly secured facility to “steal some shit”. And of course he has to fight the villain Darren Cross, who’s easily the most convincing bad guy in the Marvel universe (he turned one co-worker into a sushi earlier in the movie, in a scene probably inspired from the original RoboCop).

But that’s only half the movie, more or less. The other half is what Peyton Reed, Adam Mckay and Paul Rudd, contributed to the script: the music, Luis’ tip montage, Falcon, Quantum Realm, adding more of Hope Van Dyne in the story, and streamlining the whole movie to make it more fit to the pre-existing bigger story. Allegedly, all this in lieu of the crazier stuff, the more far out ideas Wright and Joe Cornish had originally. Still, the movie ends up like a B-side—disconnected but not totally unrelated—to all the towering destruction from all the other Phase Two movies. Which only adds to the disappointment—that we didn’t get to see the crazier stuff—given this wouldn’t have much impact on either the crossover or the other standalone series.

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It all boils down to a certain set of rules, imagined or otherwise, that restrict all movies set on Earth from having deeply varying tones. I get it. With Wright, this would have ended like the fourth installment in the Cornetto trilogy than a Marvel movie. Right.

Surprisingly . . . it actually works. Ant-Man is an enjoyable romp. And it’s better, even if only a tiny bit better, than the other MCU movies with household name heroes. Thanks in no small part to Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly and the rest of the cast. After all the massive destruction, billions worth in collateral damage, and unaccounted casualties in Age of Ultron, The Winter Soldier and Iron Man 3, Ant-Man is a welcome change of pace, a refreshing retreat. A movie capable of going really small, without sacrificing a big heart in the middle. In the end, this isn’t much about being a superhero or saving the world, as it is about fathers and daughters, mentor and mentee. It’s all about Hank and Hope, Scott and Cassie, one interrupted kiss and that “messed-up looking dog” (a giant ant) Cassie kept, at the end of the movie.

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