This article contains spoilers for Ant-Man. You have been warned.
James: Alright, another Marvel entry has hit theaters. To start, how did you feel about Ant-Man?
Erik: Well, nothing about it really blew my mind, but I wasn’t really expecting it to. So I guess in that sense it lived up to my expectations. Overall it was an enjoyable experience, but I kind of got the sense this was more of an obligation, something to help build the Marvel Cinematic Universe while we make our way to bigger things like Civil War and Avengers 3.
Tyler: I was pretty lukewarm on it. Like you, Erik, I wasn’t blown away by it. There were definitely aspects of the movie, like the action scenes that I thought were very well done and some performances that really grabbed my attention, but I can’t say it stuck with or out to me in any significant way.
James: I went in with fairly low expectations (the Marvel movies, admittedly, are not my thing) and while I wasn’t exactly blown away by anything, the entire film moved along on a fairly even, if overly familiar, click. By these assessments, are we all starting to experience Marvel fatigue? Twelve movies in, and we’re still introducing the players– is this machine just not moving quickly enough?
Tyler: I know what you mean by the fatigue of having to introduce new characters. I wouldn’t point to this movie specifically as being a sign of Marvel or Superhero fatigue but I grew tired of having to go through an origin story again even though this is only the second movie since Marvel’s “Phase One” where the main characters are entirely new. All the other new characters i.e. Falcon, Scarlet Witch, and Vision, have been introduced through “core” Avenger films. If I had to pick an “unnecessary” character movie, this might be the one because Ant-Man could have easily been introduced in Civil War or the hypothetical Iron Man 4. It will be interesting to see them dig deeper into their hero library with Doctor Strange and Inhumans on the horizon.
Erik: First off, I do agree that Ant-Man himself could have been introduced in a different movie. Frankly (and this is coming from a comic book fan) I was pretty shocked when they first announced a solo movie for the character (I’d assumed he would debut in an Avengers movie). However, I personally don’t think I’m getting tired of superhero movies, or Marvel movies, I’m getting tired of the “sameness” of these movies. Thinking back on Ant-Man, I feel like I was seeing two different movies, one that wanted to bring new things to the superhero film genre, and one that was playing it safe. The idea of a convicted criminal becoming a superhero is something they haven’t done before, and a divorced man trying to provide for his daughter – hell, just the concept of a superhero having a child is something we don’t get often. But it still went through most of the same motions of a typical super-origin story, the villain had no moral complexity, and the hero was another white guy.
James: The “sameness” in the Marvel Universe has been often criticized. As a brand, I understand the mandate that all of their films look and sound similar– they are trying to make sure all of these characters are in the same world. Yet, sometimes that can make for a boring film, especially considering the ambitious release plan they have going for the next several years. Ant-Man, controversially, was originally meant to be an Edgar Wright film, a director known for his stylish, inventive visuals. That didn’t work out obviously and director Peyton Reed took over rendering the familiar Marvel sheen. There’s so much going on outside the film itself, but we should dig into what was going on in the movie. For starters, what did you think of Paul Rudd?
Tyler: I know, it’s funny now how any discussion of an MCU movie immediately turns into a reflection on the universe itself. I liked Rudd enough and he’s a nice variation on Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark. Unfortunately, he didn’t stand out. It felt as though Marvel, Reed or probably both, reined him in from the character’s he’s been known for playing. He very much felt like the version of his persona that would be used in a CBS sitcom if he ever took one of those. He had his moments but the character, and his performance were pretty bland.
Erik: I do understand what you mean. This is no knock against Rudd, but I think he’s at his comedic best when he has someone to play off of (i.e. Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, etc.). We got a little of that with his robber buddies (especially Michael Peña), but like you, I got the sense he was reigned back. I will say though, if the idea behind the casting was to get an “everyman” type, they nailed it with Rudd (he’s basically built a career out of playing “everymen”).
James: I agree to a certain extent with both you– Rudd did feel a neutered here (which is odd considering he has a screenplay credit) but there’s a naturalism to Rudd that I’ve always been taken with and I felt he did a nice job of grounding what is an unusually silly set-up. I can also fairly easily imagine Rudd hanging out with the Avengers gang shooting the breeze and it being enjoyable. While Rudd did seem a bit hindered, I felt the entire movie felt more so. There’s a slack, jokey vibe to the whole movie, without it actually being overly funny. Also, just as Captain America: The Winter Soldier was played up as a sort of homage to ‘70s-era conspiracy thriller, Ant-Man was partially framed as a more comical heist film. Do either of you feel the tone worked?
Erik: I actually thought the heist parts (the planning and the pulling off) were some of the most enjoyable in the film. Again, because they were different than what we’ve become accustomed to in superhero films.
James: I think I liked the idea of a Marvel heist movie more so than the execution of one.
Tyler: I agree with you James. In terms of a “genre adaptation,” Ant-Man seemed to rely more on the “heist movie” aspects of the plot much more so than The Winter Soldier relied on the conspiracy aspects of the movie. Maybe it’s because there were three heists in the film, but I felt bombarded with reminders that this was trying to be Ocean’s Eleven or The Italian Job and it couldn’t live up to that genre aspect of the film. I know that Rudd was likely cast after the script was written, but I wish Marvel relied more on selling this as “a superhero movie with Paul Rudd and Anthony Mackie will be there too” because that’s enough to sell me on the movie. I wish they didn’t rely as much on fitting the genre into a superhero’s origin story.
James: Whatever genre Ant-Man is supposed to be aside, one constant in the Marvel Universe that continues here, sadly, is a less than satisfying villain. I want to be careful to not soldier too much of blame on Corey Stoll’s performance as Darren Cross (Yellowjacket), but it was difficult for me to invest much onto the heist itself because the target was so uninteresting.
Tyler: I agree in that this is probably the worst Marvel villain yet, which is saying something. Whereas even someone like Ronan (yes, I had to look that up) in Guardians had a backstory that made him slightly more interesting. His loose connections to Howard Stark and Agent Carter didn’t do anything for me since we still haven’t seen the use of those characters payoff in any way other than filling out the universe (I don’t watch Agent Carter so maybe I’m missing something there).
Erik: Well, you shouldn’t have to watch a TV show to enjoy a movie.
Tyler: I agree, but that’s the Marvel world in which we live.
Erik: Regardless, it’s a pity because Stoll just naturally looks and sounds like a villain, so I don’t think there’s any blame to be placed at his feet. The character was just written poorly; a generic greedy evil guy who cares about nothing but stroking his own ego and profit (and we get enough of those types in the Iron Man films). I don’t want to just assume this whole movie would have been better if Wright had stayed on, but I have to believe Yellowjacket would have been a little more interesting – Wright’s kind of known for his interesting characters.
James: I felt there was just so little nuance or sense of tension to Cross as a character– he might as well have been stroking a black cat in his first scene. It’s interesting that Warner Bros. has Suicide Squad in the works which focuses solely on DC Comics’ collection of villains and I while we have no idea how that will work, I can’t imagine any fan base clamoring to see a Marvel villain-filled film.
Tyler: The two big problems that have plagued Marvel since Iron Man are that all the best women characters are X-Men which belongs to Fox and their best villains are in Spider-Man which (sorta) belongs to Sony.
Erik: Well, first off the women in X-Men are not the only good female Marvel superheroes (Ms. Marvel, Wasp, and Squirrel Girl are all awesome I’ll have you know). But yes, these movies do have a weird issue with women in tights. That mid-credits scene where Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) is all “it’s about damn time” actually pissed me off, because no, after twelve movies it’s way, way past time. I don’t even understand why she couldn’t have been in the movie as Wasp. Something could have gone wrong during the heist, so she puts on her mom’s old costume and helps the guys out. This could have been done.
James: Yes, that was a big problem for me. The sad marginalization of Ant-Man’s female characters were fairly depressing. Changing topics a little, I feel we need to dig a little into Michael Douglas– who plays Dr. Hank Pym. What did you think?
Erik: Hey, Michael Douglas is a great actor, who knew (he said sarcastically)? He was going to be suave, charming, and a huge dick-but-you-like-him-anyway no matter what. It only would have been surprising if it had been a bad performance.
Tyler: Much like Rudd, I thought he was fine here which I suppose is a problem when we’re discussing the two lead actors. I have read and heard some people thought he played it “too angry” but that didn’t stick out nor bug me.
Erik: Those people should be happy the filmmakers toned down Pym’s dickery from the comics. For instance: in the comics he gets thrown out of the Avengers after he hits his wife.
Tyler: I was much more interested in Michael Peña and continue to enjoy every minute that Anthony Mackie is on screen. A lot has been said about Peña stealing the show and I agree with them.
James: We’ve been fairly lukewarm on Ant-Man as a whole. I did want to mention, hopefully to end on a happy note, that I felt the last half hour or so was actually a lot of fun. The climatic battle sequence had a certain spark and visual wit rarely allowed in the Marvel movies and I was fairly charmed by it. It perhaps a case of too little too late, but there was a small (no pun intended) degree of magic there.
Tyler: Definitely want to emphasize how well done the special effects, art direction and editing is for those action scenes. They found a way to make a guy who gets his strength from shrinking in size much cooler than it had any right to be.
Erik: Despite my criticisms I did have a fun time with this movie. In fact if I had to describe it in one word, I would use “fun” – nothing more, nothing less. And as much as I didn’t like Yellowjacket as a character, the final fight between him and Ant-Man was one of the most creative battles in any superhero movies (what with all the size-manipulation going around). Plus, if this is what we had to go through to get more female superheroes in the MCU, it’s not a bad price to pay.