Honey, I shrunk the Superhero: Ant-Man

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You know what movie I’d really like to see? An in-depth documentary on the making of Ant-Man. Because the troubled production of this movie is, I think, a far more interesting story than the one the actual movie has to tell. Which is another way of saying that I don’t know how to fill up this review. I mean, it’s a Marvel movie; I’ve done 11 other versions of this. There’s good, there’s bad. We’ve been here before.

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So many times.

I think the baked-in problem with Ant-Man is this: we haven’t had an origin story since Captain America: First Avenger, and even that was a pretty decent twist on the usual formula. So Ant-man suffers from a disadvantage from the get-go; in a way, it can’t help but feel like a step backward. It’s not as good as Iron Man, but it’s a fair sight better than the Incredible Hulk, so let’s take comfort where and when we can: there will never be a Marvel movie as thoroughly unimpressive as the Incredible Hulk.

And there are a few telling differences here; twists, or wrinkles, or whatever, that keep this movie from feeling… well, not fresh – certainly not that – but less stale at least. Palatable.

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The fathers and daughters thing is… a thing, certainly, and I would never argue that it wasn’t. And this is the first time we’ve seen a passing of the mantle from one generation to another, and that’s pretty cool.

Also cool – groundbreaking, even – is the powers themselves, and it gives us a whole new set of visuals that we’ve never seen before. So screw the family thing, or the mentor thing, this is what really sets Ant-man apart and justifies it’s existence. This tiny, tiny dude:

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There are some legitimately great sequences in this movie, and the filmmaker embraces the weirdness of this concept in a way that is unabashedly joyful. I mean, Thomas the Tank Engine. I could leave it at that and this review would be complete.

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I won’t though, because there’s also the awesome homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey that happens as Scott falls through ‘the Quantum Realm’:

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This would be amazing in and of itself, just as a visual nod to my favorite movie ever, but the film uses this sequence both to set up a sequel (Janet Van Dyne was lost in the Quantum Realm, but not, I think, for much longer) and to remind us one more time what has truly motivated our hero for the entire film: his daughter, Peanut. I mean, Cassie. Whatever.

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This thing.

I don’t have any kids, but I’ve consumed enough media to understand that it’s a powerful motivating force. Also, if I just pretend that Scott Laing is doing all this for his cat then it  makes sense to me.

So if Iron Man is about guilt, and Captain America is about duty, and the Incredible Hulk is about nothing, then Ant-man, first and foremost, is about family. It’s smaller in scale, I guess you could say, and it turns out I may have liked this thing more than I thought I did; I’m really talking myself around about it.

So why am I so underwhelmed by this movie, then?

I think part of it is Judy Greer, who plays Scott’s ex, and who doesn’t have a name worth remembering. (Maggie! I just remembered.) I guess I never really understood what her problem was, or why she was so insistent that Scott pay child support as a condition to seeing his daughter who clearly adores him. I mean, let’s go to the numbers:

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Leaving aside that I can’t figure out how he arrived at his conclusion, let’s assume he’s done his math correctly and, holy shit! That’s over a year! That’s like sending the guy to prison after he just got out of prison. And let’s not forget that children are not static creatures, indeed, the entire point of them (from my limited understanding) is that they grow and change. A year is the equivalent of a geological age in life of a child, and, as Scott himself says, he’s already missed a lot.

“I had a lot of time to think about it, and I love her. So much. I’ve missed so much time and I want to be part of her life. What do I do?”

Judy Greer is unmoved by this, or at least, the script says she is, so we get this:

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Unmoved by this.

“Get an apartment. Get a job. Pay child support. Then we will talk about visitation, I promise.”

So she’s not even saying that he can see his kid if he jumps through these hoops, but rather that they’ll talk about it. A discussion will be had. Now, I don’t want to dismiss out of hand the notion of child support and single mothers and absentee fathers and all that. It’s important, and the reason there are laws in place is because enough people have been assholes about providing in the past, leading to a lot of stress and hardship on the part of those left holding the bag. Except that’s not the picture the movie paints for us, which is pretty much one of domestic bliss. We have a great house in what appears to be a nice neighborhood, and her new husband is a stock cop character in a movie. Stock cop characters do quite well, providing they survive whatever movie they’re in (and this one does). The point is, this is not someone who is in need of whatever limited financial support Scott can provide. And maybe it’s the principle of the thing, but if your principles require a little girl to be kept from her father, then guess what? You’re the problem. What Scott can provide is a father’s love, and there just has to be some intrinsic value in that.

There has to be, because that’s what this movie is about. Take the film’s other villain:

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Pay child support, Scott.

Corey Stoll plays Darren Cross, who was once the protege of Hank Pym; presumably until he showed up to work one day looking like Lex Luthor and Hank Pym was having none of it. Not that that’s what Cross took away from it, all he knew was that his mentor, his father-figure, abandoned him. The same goes for Hope (played by Evangeline Lily’s fantastic wig), who felt abandoned by her father after her mother’s ‘death’, and only the realization that her boss was Lex Luthor is enough to bring her back.

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I really cannot say enough good things about this wig.

So, a father’s love; very important. It is, after all, what allows Scott to save himself from the nothingness of the Quantum Realm, and that’s great for us, because I can’t wait for the next movie. One that is completely free of the miasma of dissent that clouds this one.

You know, the elephant in the room? It’s very hard to miss an elephant in a movie about ants, so this is the part where we talk about how Edgar Wright got chewed up and spat out by the monster the MCU has become.

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Galactus, technically owned by Fox.

Now Edgar Wright is either a genius – according the internet at large – or the guy who did Scott Pilgrim and is owed a debt of gratitude for it but we’ve mostly moved on – according to me. He was attached to Ant-Man in 2006, around the time they were developing Iron Man and only dreaming about the Avengers. Formative times, and it’s safe to say that no one realized just what a beast this would all become. So it seemed like no big deal to allow this talented, free-spirited genius his pet project, while they went off and worked on building the universe Ant-man would one day inhabit. But of course, Ant-Man wasn’t Edgar Wright’s only project at the time, he also gave us that Scott Pilgrim movie I was so fond of, as well The World’s End. And in that time the world changed. Superhero movies were now a billion dollar industry and ‘I’m sorry, you can’t just do whatever you want’, except that that had been the original deal, so…

 

That was how it came to pass then, that a little over a year before its release, Ant-Man found itself in search of a new director. Yikes. Somebody was quickly drafted who would toe the company line and his name was Peyton Reed, and thus the ship was righted and produced the all-around palatable superhero pablum that today we call Ant-Man.

Which I liked.

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A lot.

Apparently there were some last minute rewrites (as in, at least 2) but then this train was leaving the station, so there was just no time to iron out the awkwardness. You’re left with a weird frankensteinian-hybrid that is Wright’s basic premise, with some Paul Rudd comedy and a studio-mandated fight at the Avengers headquarters grafted on.

And I liked it.

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Mostly.

I could make the usual complaints about gender, – like how they fridged Hope’s mom and original Wasp,  Janet Van Dyne, or how Judy Greer was written to be an unreasonable shrew – but on the main those arguments have already been made, and by people smarter and more articulate than me. But I would like to ask a question, why does Hope’s suit have boobs on it? Was that neccessary?

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“Actually, I think I’ll just be Ant-Man, Dad. Scott can wear the ladysuit.”

Like, I get that it was originally made for his wife, and they were doubtlessly into some kinkiness – and I don’t judge! – but you’d think a father would modify the fetish wear just a tad before gifting it to his daughter. Evangeline Lily’s wig is just not that busty.

So that’s Ant Man, the final movie in PHASE TWO of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And even it’s inclusion there feels like an awkward afterthought; because obviously Age of Ultron should have been the capstone, just as the original Avengers closed out the first phase. But you can see why they didn’t want people thinking this movie was at all indicative of how Phase Three was going to go, so they just snuck it in there and washed their hands of it. Phase Two, complete.

 

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