By Charly SHELTON
It was no small secret (pun intended) that director Edgar Wright wanted to do “Ant-Man.” He and his writing partner, Joe Cornish, reportedly had a script for several years, shopping it around to find a studio that wanted a standalone Ant-Man film. It was a comedy heist movie that, according to “Avengers” director and leader of the nerd army Joss Whedon, “was not only the best script that Marvel ever had, but the most [Marvel-esque] script I had read.”
Nerds across the world rejoiced when Wright leaked an image on his Twitter account promoting “Ant-Man.” And then, just as quickly, he dropped from the project and Marvel was having trouble filling the director’s chair. The script went through several drafts and changes with Adam McKay and Paul Rudd taking over as writers and then Peyton Reed, director of “Bring It On” and “Yes Man,” finally signed on to direct. What we are left with is an amalgam piece that works, but we aren’t sure why.
Ant-Man is already an established character when the movie begins. Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has discovered a new particle that allows the space between molecules to shrink, making the object smaller and way denser. He uses his “Pym particles” to shrink down to the size of an ant and fight bad guys during the Cold War. But being a pacifist as Dr. Pym is famous for, he gives up the violence of that life and throws himself into science that can help people. He locks away the suit, it’s power too great to fall into unworthy hands.
Enter Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) – a brilliant mechanical engineer who fought for the little guy and lost. His sentence in San Quentin is up and he is ready to make a clean life and get his daughter back. But with few opportunities for an ex-con, he turns back to crime to pay the bills. He steals the Ant-Man suit and Pym, impressed by Lang’s talent, hires him for a job. The evil leader of Pym Technologies, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), has discovered Pym’s closely guarded formula for Pym particle extraction. Lang and Pym must plan the perfect heist, down to the tiniest detail, to destroy the formula and keep the secret out of the wrong hands.
This is a really complex movie. In summarizing it just now, I realize how much more there really is to the story. Every draft, it seems, added another subplot or story aspect, and then the cast got to add to and change their characters, resulting in “a really full arc” for previously more supporting role characters, according to an IGN interview. I keep trying to find a way to rationalize what it has become and I am at a loss. I like it and I don’t. It is a good movie and I really enjoyed it, but the first thought after the credits rolled was that they never really quite got there. You can see what they are going for, but it rarely gets those awesome, epic magic moments like some of the other Marvel films.
“X-Men 2” has the moment when Wolverine flies off of the second story and pops his claws, attacking a whole legion of soldiers headlong – magic moment. Tony Stark says, at the end of the film, “I am Iron Man” – magic moment. Captain America steps out of the Vita-Ray machine almost two feet taller than when he went in – magic moment. It is a hallmark of a good Marvel film to have at least one moment. (For example: Can you think of a magic moment in “Iron Man 2”? Me neither.) I can think of one moment from “Ant-Man” – when he is shrunk down and going all out with his size changing abilities and quick reflexes as he maneuvers his trusty flying ant through a field of overloading servers as their plan goes into effect. It is amazing and really gets there, giving the audience that same feeling that they got in many of the other films. But that is the only moment that I can think of off the top of my head. It has the prerequisite one moment but there are so many opportunities that should be magic, that you expect are going to be magic, and they just aren’t.
Part of the problem, I think, is that there are too many visions at play here – Wright’s vision, and McKay/Rudd’s vision, and the vision from the third team of writers, Gabriel Ferrari and Andrew Barrer, and then the vision of the cast members, all pushed into the mold of Marvel’s vision. There were too many cooks in the kitchen and what worked as a set-up-to-payoff in one version may only have worked as a set up in another. Overall, it is a fun film and it gets the job done, but it is not what it could be.
And it is no surprise that it is the lowest opening for a Marvel film except for “The Incredible Hulk.” I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Just one more thing, and this is for the True Believers out there. As a comic book fan, it is disturbing to me that the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie was amazing and “Ant-Man” was only okay. Guardians in the comics are kind of pointless, except for a few issues of the relaunched title after Marvel NOW! But then Bendis kinda lost his mind with that title. Meanwhile, Ant-Man is awesome and, although he doesn’t get a lot of issues, the ones he gets are pretty good. Even the FF run with Medusa, She Hulk and Miss Thing that Matt Fraction did are pretty good. Now he has his own comic line (finally!) to hype the movie, and it’s passable. And Hank Pym, as Giant Man, got a graphic novel – “Avengers: Rage of Ultron,” which is quite possibly the greatest story in comics. (Seriously, buy the hardcover now and read it. You can thank me later.) So why is a mediocre comic adapted to a great film, and a great comic character adapted to an alright film? A question for the ages. At least we can all be glad about one thing – Eric O’Grady is nowhere to be seen. Irredeemable Ant Man stays dead.
For more such nerd blatherings, see True-Believer.net every other Friday.