Ant-Man: Big ideas, small payoff
Or how the Marvel universe has jumped the SharkMan
Film Review We were invited by Dolby to see a screening of Ant-Man at its custom-built screening room in San Francisco the other night. And so, of course, we went along.
The film is sound-mixed with Dolby's "Atmos" technology, which the high-end cinemas have and which basically allows you to place sounds in a theatre rather than have to decide which speakers to put the sound through.
The reason we say all this is not as a sop to the company for inviting us, but because the sound was so good that you almost didn't notice that Ant-Man is, well, not very good.
Sure, it looks fantastic (and we also had fancy 3D glasses rather than the cheap cinema ones so the image was pin-sharp and very involving). And yes, there are some great, fun actors in it (Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, comic relief via Michael Peña). It's fast-paced. It has lots of booms and bangs, and comic interludes – what's not to love?
We predict a very healthy take at the box office. And that means, sadly, that we will have to suffer more and more of these Marvel cookie cutter blockbusting bullshit fests before the world finally tires of them, like Police Academy or The Matrix or, hang on, Planet of the Apes or Terminator [um, I think you're simply referring to Hollywood – Ed].
So, Ant-Man. The superhero you’d never heard of until earlier this year when you saw that Edgar Wright was directing a film about him. Edgar Wright?! Well, hang on then, this might be worth checking out.
Except, sadly, Edgar Wright is not directing, he just wrote the screenplay. Why? Because Wright was always going to be too ... inflexible, shall we say, to be allowed to touch the latest Marvel film-brick. You need someone who wants the directing credit more than they want to create a great film.
And so we got the man behind such creative tour-de-forces as cheerleader drama Bring It On and Jennifer Aniston dull-as-shit romcom The Break-Up, Peyton Reed.
Ant-Man very nearly worked. Wright's screenplay has a lot of fun with the superhero genre – as he has done with each of his films. In fact, it was most likely the fact that the idea of a man becoming incredibly small is so ludicrous in the role of a superhero that attracted Wright to it in the first place.
Unfortunately no one else seemed to have been let in on the joke. There is one moment right at the end that highlights how much fun this film could have been.
It is the final showdown between the baddie and hero, and it alternates between the ant-size view – where things are life and death – and the normal-size adult perspective – where it looks like the batteries in the toy set may have gone awry. It is very funny and engrossing, and it just makes you wish it had been introduced earlier – much earlier.
As usual, the technology and the pseudo-science appear almost plausible at the beginning before the explanation got increasingly rushed and mumbled before finally – everyone gives up. Stop thinking and look at that explosion!
Basically, old genius duffer Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) has figured out how to reduce the space between atoms so things can get really, really small, really quickly.
When small, they are of course much denser and that means that, y'know, when you are a person, you still have all your man-sized strength but in a much smaller space which means ... more strength ...? Stop thinking and look at that explosion!
Of course the tricky part is when it comes to "organic material," i.e., living things. For that, the super secret is that it has to be contained within some kind of suit.
And that's why it took Dr Pym's protégé turned assholé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) so long to figure out how to shrink people, as well as tables, chairs, and super-soldier laser-firing invisi-suits.
For someone who is smart enough to figure out how to shrink things, you would imagine the concept of containing something within a non-organic suit would have come fairly early on in the process, but hey.
And we swear to god that Michael Douglas purposefully mumbled the explanation, glad to have got the words out quickly so he could get on with the film.
Of course, all of this logic is then thrown out right at the end of the film when Ant-Man (Rudd) is suddenly given the Ant-Man equivalent of a blue pill and a red pill in blunt ninja stars that can shrink or explode (not that kind of explode) whatever they hit.
Which makes you wonder why they went to so much trouble in the whole rest of the movie – just chuck a couple of these about and you're done.
Stop thinking and look at that explosion!
Emotion and humour
Paul Rudd was a good choice for the Ant-Man that Edgar Wright wrote. Just not the film he ended up starring in.
Rudd has great comic timing and presence but his style is awkward and knowing – a very different animal to the cocky bravado of, say, Robert Downey Jr.
Marvel has figured out how to fit Tony Stark ego-humour into a superhero movie, but it fails miserably at including Rudd’s. What you end up with is a superhero who doesn't really look or act like a superhero and then jarring comic interludes from Paul Rudd who just wandered onto the set from romcom filming next door. Not that the comic set-pieces aren’t good – they are – but they belong in a different movie.
And the emotion, of course, is pure comic book. A whole backstory of father and daughter who lost their wife/mother and so remain angry with one another but still love one another. It might have worked but it didn't. Probably because Michael Douglas didn't really seem to be all that present (didn't he have a stroke a few years ago?).
It does work with Rudd and his daughter. In fact, a whole film with Rudd as the great but flawed Dad dealing with his ex-wife and new asshole boyfriend is probably one worth watching. But in this superhero flick it never feels like more than a plot device.
When Dr Pym gives a speech invoking his daughter as a way to get Scott Lang (Rudd) to become Ant-Man and do something stupid and dangerous, Lang tells him: "Wow! That was a great speech." But it wasn't, which makes you wonder whether Rudd is mocking him.
Even more confusing was when Lang advises Pym to get the Avengers to do the job instead of him. This is very confusing. Is he joking? Are the Avengers fantasy characters? Or do they really exist in this cinematic world? Or is it an in-joke?
It turns out it's a plug for the last Avengers movie. "Oh, they'll probably be too busy lifting up an entire city," says Pym/Douglas, or something like that. I would guess all the Marvel nerds think this is hilarious, but it feels like bad product placement. And then in a completely unnecessary 10-minute tangent that could literally be cut out entirely and no one would notice, Ant-Man actually goes and fights an Avenger for absolutely no good reason.
Which Avenger? Captain America? The Hulk? Whatever Scarlett Johansson's one is called? No, some black guy with wings and goggles. Superfly? No, Falcon apparently. This is the Marvel universe and you're supposed to be embarrassed if you don't know. Even when he is thrown in for no reason other than to shove the next part of the franchise down your gullet.
Before we went to see the film, fellow hack and comic-book buff Neil McAllister decried the fact that Ant-Man was going to follow the exact same Marvel formula. "And the worst bit is just before the credit, you'll get some bullshit extra scene that sets up the sequel."
Marvel is so full of itself right now that it included not just one but two extra scenes. Both of them serve absolutely no purpose but to set up a sequel, one before and one after the credits.
For Stan Lee – oh my god was that Stan Lee as a bartender right at the end?!!! – this all makes perfect sense. He is simply extending the comic-book approach to film – with multiple crossovers and setups. Buy the next book in this series. Buy the next book in the new series.
But for a feature film, and two hours in front of a screen somewhere other than your own home, this is all too much. Ant-Man was an original, amusing, lively and exciting film when it was first imagined. But by the time it appeared at the other end of Marvel machine, it had become just one more movie.
Should you go watch it? Why not? You know exactly what you'll get and if you fancy it, enjoy. But if you're waiting for a great film to enjoy, give this one a miss. ®
Director Peyton Reed
Cast Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly
Release date 17 July
More info Movie website