Worth not stepping on: Thoughts on Ant-Man

Not the easiest thing to do anyway.
Not the easiest thing to do anyway.

One of the most unfair criticisms leveled against Ant-Man (the latest superhero film from the good folk over at Marvel), well before the film was released, was that it was a movie no one asked for or wanted. I recall one re-blog that did the rounds on Tumblr when the titular blogging site had a “Ask the cast of Ant-Man” going on, “How does it feel starring in a movie no one asked for?” or something along those lines, receiving plenty of the internet equivalent of snickers and backslaps at such a brilliant witticism. Personally I found it all a bit fucking disingenuous. I mean, I understand where a lot of these detractors were and are coming from. I too would have really liked to see a MCU film with a female or POC lead a lot sooner than they’re coming (and am bloody stoked for the Captain Marvel and Black Panther films, both due in 2018). And, hell, there has been a pretty large voice crying out for a Black Widow led film (though it seems a lot of that’s cooled off a bit since the arguably disappointing character arc and dialogue in Age of Ultron).

But it feels like this ignores three key points. First, I’m sure there were plenty of people who were overjoyed to see the Ant-Man film. I mean, the guy had to have had some fans (and there must of been a few disgruntled fanboys and girls crying foul when Tony Stark constructed Ultron in the MCU instead of Hank Pym). Second, films are regularly made that aren’t asked for. We frequently don’t know what we want. Shit, I didn’t know how much I wanted a Captain America movie til it was made and looked awesome. In fact we’re normally overjoyed when a film is made that isn’t a sequel (even if it is part of a larger franchise or broadly shared universe, like the Pixar films). Third, why can’t we have both? Marvel studios and their Disney overlords are an enormous empire with plenty of talent to choose from, the millions to spend and an audience that is still eating out of the palm of their hands. Getting a She-Hulk, Spider-Woman or Falcon movie out between AoU and Ant-Man would not have been impossible. Blaming Ant-Man for being made when other possibly great films aren’t just doesn’t sit well, ’cause it is not the film’s fault that they weren’t made.

Mind you, it doesn’t much matter. The film still topped the Friday box office and will likely do very well this weekend. It’s had pretty decent reviews by critics and the public. I also doubt very much the pre-release criticism had anywhere near the attention on social media that the abso-bloody-lutely delightful advertising campaign for the film managed to spark (tiny bilboards? Brilliant!) Most people who’d read this would probably even be surprised that this non-issue came up at all, anywhere. It’s a criticism I wanted to quickly address, however, because the aim was right even if the target was wrong.

I went and saw Ant-Man Friday with one of my housemates. It was good. Sharp dialogue, plenty of physical humour, a creative and satisfying climactic battle. Paul Rudd is funny in his non-threateningly charming way, with a strong emotional range that leads to a light-hearted pay-off. Corey Stoll’s character Darren Cross (eventually the Yellow-Jacket and villain through the entire film) is appropriately menacing and more than a little crazy, with his abandonment issues and desire for Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) respect (though I can’t help but feel he’s a bit of a copy-paste of Iron Man 3‘s Aldrich Killian). Evangeline Lilly is competent as Hope van Dyne, Hank Pym’s sort-of estranged daughter. But the father/daughter relationship could have used a lot more fleshing out. There’s supposed to be an enormous rift between the two but we never really see it (both characters coming off pretty one dimensional in the process) and the predictable confession and forgiveness scene doesn’t have any serious punch. Some of the best laughs come from Michael Peña’s role as Luis, the fast-talking, surprisingly-cultured ex-con/still-a-bit-crooked best friend of Ant-Man. He plays the role of comically stupid without ever appearing incapable, incompetent or unlikeable, and that is a true skill (and mark of a well-scripted character).

I can’t bring myself to give the kind of glowing recommendation to see it in the cinema that I gave to Guardians of the Galaxy. It falls into following too-predictable-cliches and  too-recognizable-tropes for that.The training montage, for instance, where the highly competent female supporting lead teaches the bumbling male how to do the role she should be doing. Thankfully it doesn’t go all the way (Hope is still a more competent hero at the end of the film, and Scott is given the role of Ant-Man over her because he’s expendable rather than ‘The Special/Chosen/Prophesied one). It’s a good film though. Funny. Clever. Worth watching. I think the best way to put is that you won’t regret it if you see it in the cinema. At the very least it’ll get a few laughs.

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