Road to Infinity: ‘Ant-Man’ (2015) Review

Film #12 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Ant-Man

“The end is near.” Avengers: Infinity War is set to hit theaters at the end of the month. Each weekday FilmExodus will be spotlighting a film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the buildup to Infinity War. Don’t expect a Stan Lee cameo though. This is… The Road to Infinity.

This review is likely to be somewhat of a black sheep compared to the others in this series simply because I am not overly familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). In fact, I did not even know what ‘MCU’ stood for when I first saw it! Nevertheless, I have seen a handful of the Marvel films and completed over 96% of the Lego Marvel Superheroes computer game which helped me identify some of the seemingly endless array of Marvel characters. (Since writing this review, I have also attained 100% of the Lego Marvel Avengers computer game. I even surprise myself!) My viewpoints will mainly be based on Ant-Man itself without really referring to the hard copy comic book story version or to the link with other MCU films and heroes.

The Story

“Just get on the damn ant, Scott!”

In 1989, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) leaves S.H.I.E.L.D. and takes his master discovery – the Pym Particle – with him. Soon after, Pym starts his own company called Pym Tech but is ultimately forced out of the company and into relative exile, only coming out of reclusion when new CEO Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) unveils a new invention. Cross, who has renamed the company Cross Technologies, has been experimenting with a particle that changes the distance between atoms that will increase strength and density. He introduces the Yellowjacket, an all-purpose weapon of war in the form of a soldier the size of an insect. Although Cross has managed to shrink subjects, they are consequently killed through the process, leaving them looking like a tiny heap of bloody tissue that is easily wiped up with a paper towel. Knowing that Pym had developed the Pym Particle, Cross is obsessed with replicating his research to even further heights. This scares Pym who sees Cross’ thirst for power as well as his increasingly irrational state, prompting him to think of a way to halt the future use of the Yellowjacket. Being too old himself for the job, Pym sets his sights on an ex-con named Scott Lang (Paul Rudd).

Lang is a cat burglar and was fired from his company for whistleblowing about internal embezzlement. After losing his job, he breaks into his former workplace and programmes their computers so that the company’s customers will be rewired the millions of dollars that were taken from them. After being released from prison, he goes to live with his friend and former inmate Luis (Michael Peña) plus his two friends Dave and Kurt. Though Lang tries to go straight for a while and hopes to use his Master’s level degree in Mechanical Engineering to help open doors, the only job he is able to get is at Baskin-Robbins which he ends up losing when they find out about his criminal background. Desperate for money so that he can pay child support and see his daughter, Cassie, on a regular basis, he agrees to be an accessory to Luis’ plan of robbing Pym’s safe that is thought to contain a big payday.

The robbery is executed perfectly but the loot is not exactly what was envisioned: a strange looking suit with a helmet. Nonetheless, Lang takes it along and eventually tries it on, revealing the special powers that it can bring. Down the road, Lang ends up staying with Pym and his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly) at their mansion while training to succeed Pym as Ant-Man. For the rest … well, you will have to watch the movie!

Ant-Man as a Superhero

The idea behind this superhero is a departure from the norm because by himself, the person wearing the Ant-Man suit does not possess any supernatural powers on their own. In everyday life, the wearer is like any other ordinary guy. In order to fully exploit the advantages of the Ant-Man costume, said person must strenuously physically train as well as practice communicating with ants. Of course, the wearer has to innately use their critical thinking abilities to help them along, so they must display a certain amount of self-reflection and humility to properly use the suit. Scott Lang proves himself capable of wearing the suit after passing an impromptu initiation test when he shrinks himself after trying it on following the Pym robbery. He is able to survive a normally inescapable situation mostly on his own though is verbally guided by Pym who is speaking to him via his helmet. Things are not always so easy for Lang, particularly after he gets arrested for trespassing when trying to return the suit to Pym’s safe. Lang’s tendency to think with his heart frustrates Pym and makes Hope feel like he is ultimately the wrong choice. In the end, Lang triumphs against the odds and proves to be an extremely worthy Ant-Man.

Ant-Man’s abilities may not seem very jaw-dropping and impressive at first, especially in comparison to other superheroes but they are in fact very useful. His microscopic size allows him to go largely undetected and pass through most security barriers unnoticed as well as bypass even the most powerful of enemies. One scene from the film that I really enjoyed was Ant-Man’s interaction with the Falcon. Although the Falcon easily spotted Ant-Man in tall grass, Lang was ultimately able to defeat him because he was able to access the Falcon’s power source and deactivate the sensors. Afterwards, Lang joking suggests receiving praise for “fighting an Avenger and living” but when you think about it, his observation is not crazy. His victory of the Falcon is a reason to be proud. As one of the film’s promotional taglines goes: “No Shield. No Hammer. No Problem.”

Casting Choices

In all honesty, I was extremely sceptical when I first found out that Paul Rudd was being cast as a Marvel Superhero. The first thoughts that came to my head were: he is too old, he does not have the right looks, and he is the wrong type of actor. I was introduced to Rudd in his first movie role starring opposite Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, later adoring him in the romantic comedy The Object of My Affection while finding him slightly awkward as a serious character in The Cider House Rules. To me, Paul Rudd was the perfect rom-com leading man with boyish good looks couple with an air of fresh innocence. As the years went by, he started being case in comedies alongside Will Ferrell and other members of the ‘Frat Pack’, which really surprised me. His career was by no means suffering but until Ant-Man came along, one could hardly be inclined to say that he was a level-headed thespian. I believe Ant-Man not only salvaged a more respectable overall opinion for Rudd as a performer but that his role also helps to show off his diverse acting skills. As Scott Lang, he shows his gentle nature as well as his nerdy, bad-ass self and combining the two makes him the perfect candidate to be a Robin Hood-like superhero. He has acquired maximum criminal-level skills at the same time as using any gain to do good. Rudd plays Lang in a way that you relate to his frustrations, fears, desires, and even emotional attachments, rooting for him to find a way to be reunited with his daughter and to overcome his initial difficulties in being asked to wear the Ant-Man suit.

The chemistry Rudd has with Michael Douglas is excellent and you get a sense that Lang truly respects Pym by listening to his personal history as well as accepting the advice that he has to give. Douglas functions well in his role but the make-up job used is, in my opinion, a bit excessive. He went from looking refreshed (thanks to advanced visual effects) to a doppelganger of Colonel Sanders in a mere 25-year period. It would have been better had they trimmed his beard and updated the glasses. Despite Pym being an outcast of sorts, he did not go so far as to neglect his appearance or his overall grooming habits. As for the rest, viewers get the standard Michael Douglas experience (usual verbal delivery and facial expressions) but I suppose that came with the price tag.

Being unfamiliar with Evangeline Lilly, I had no specific expectations. I found her incarnation of Hope van Dyne to be satisfactory. Like most of the Marvel female love interests, her dialogue was overall quite weak and too understated which made it so that she automatically played second fiddle to Rudd. Her facial features and the colour of her hair reminded me of Liv Tyler in a way although Liv has never worn her hair in such a blunt cut/style. (Ironically enough, I had seen Liv in The Incredible Hulk a few nights before viewing Ant-Man.) I have similar feelings about Corey Stoll though I found him to be less convincing an “unexpected” Marvel villain than other usual nice guys like Jeff Bridges as the Iron Monger (in Iron Man). Stoll definitely could have upped his game and played his character a little more on the dark side or even have showed more of his progressive downturn throughout the film. When Cross as the Yellowjacket and Ant-Man are having their big confrontation, Cross’s rather weak villain makes him ultimately seem more beatable.

The rest of the supporting cast is a mixed bag. Michael Peña is sadly underused as a sidekick even though I understand that he is a large part of the film’s comic relief. I was hoping that he would eventually turn against Lang’s Ant-Man as he could befittingly play a villainous character. Leaving me highly unimpressed was Bobby Cannavale as Lang’s ex-wife’s fiancée who also happens to be a San Francisco cop.  He looked straight-laced enough to play the role but somehow sticks out like a sore thumb, at least to me.

Script & Production

Talks of making Ant-Man into a feature film happened for a couple of decades before anything tangible grew out of them and even then, it took several more years before a proper script was approved. Adam McKay joined forces with Paul Rudd after Edgar Wright had resigned from the film but ended up still receiving a writing credit despite the fact that McKay and Rudd made significant re-writes to the script. They also added certain elements to the film such as when a novice Lang as Ant-Man meets the Falcon. McKay and Rudd thought that it would be funny for Ant-Man to stumble onto an Avenger almost by accident. On one hand, I think it helped immensely that McKay and Rudd had extensive experience working together on past cinematic projects because it aided in smoothing out some of the writing difficulties on Ant-Man. On the other hand, it may have hampered the film to have included too much comedy.

I did not read any sort of plot or behind-the-scenes information about the film before watching it the first time so I was unaware that McKay had penned some of the film’s dialogue. After finding out, though, the tone of the film made more sense. My initial thought was that there were too many forced humorous moments that sort of kill having a complete appreciation of the movie. For example, Hank and Hope are sharing a poignant moment that is interrupted by Lang making a stupid comment about it, then stating in a deadpan fashion, “I ruined the moment, didn’t I?” Well, yes. I found that joke silly and unnecessary. A similar situation happened at the end when Lang is eating dinner with his daughter, his ex-wife, and her fiancée. They have kind words for each other and, naturally, the scene is kind of ruined with Lang once again acknowledging the awkwardness of the moment. The film would have fared better if those kinds of scenes and ‘jokes of the obvious’ had never been included.

From a 12-year-old’s Perspective

It must have been fate that I got to review this film because my son is a huge fan of Ant-Man and was incredibly excited to have a copy of it at home, so much so that he even wanted to write a mini-review on it himself!

I think that Ant-Man is not like the other Marvel movies because it really has a lot of details about the hero and it really talks about the character (you learn a lot of things about Ant-Man and it’s perfect for a person who knows nothing about him). But there is something I noticed a couple of minutes after the movie starts, it is that the storyline is different from the one in the original Ant-Man comic books (with Hank Pym, mostly). Anyway, I really suggest watching this movie because there are some parts that are funny and mostly because it’s really fun watching this movie.

Closing Thoughts

My feelings are mixed about the Marvel superhero films as a whole. I have admittedly enjoyed some of them, notably Ghost Rider (non-MCU) because I thought it was nicely filmed and the character is just plain cool. (My appreciation is completely independent of whether or not I like Nicolas Cage, of course!) Others have not fared so well in my memory, notably Iron Man because I felt that the whole film was way over the top and that it was an unforgivable sin to ever give Robert Downey, Jr. a second chance in Hollywood. When it comes to Ant-Man, I end this review with an overall positive opinion of the film though it clearly could have been lighter on the cheesy, forced comedic moments. I hope that the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp continuation set for release in the summer of 2018 will not disappoint and that it will lead to positive developments for the Ant-Man series.

Here is a little bonus and in-joke for fans of Paul Rudd: