“Ant Man” is a film at war with itself. In the first act, it’s very explicitly a comedy (a pretty damn funny comedy, but still). Then the second act comes around, and all of a sudden, we’re dropped headfirst into what feels like a Disney film from the 90’s (more on this later). It quite simply feels like it doesn’t belong in the same movie as the first act. But, then we get to the third act, and it feels like we’re in a completely different movie than the second act.
Ant Man is at its best when it dials up the weirdness, and goes to areas that many Marvel films won’t dare venture. Like, the stuff in the 3rd act is truly fun and inventive, and might be my favorite 3rd act in ANY of the MCU films. But, you have to get through a torrential downpour of “cliche soup” in the 2nd act to get there. It’s a chore, not because it’s “bad” nor even “boring”. It’s more so just “okay, I know where this is going, can we just hit those beats so we can move on to something more interesting?”
Let’s back up, though… The film follows the story of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), an ex-con fresh out of prison who wants to go clean and reconnect with his daughter. But, he gets pulled back into a life of crime, and through doing that, catches the attention of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) who recruits Scott to become the “Ant Man”, much to the chagrin of Hank’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily). But, they’ll have to learn to work together to stop Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from doing… something.
The big villainous plan is to sell Pym’s tech to some unsavory people, so Ant-Man has to steal the tech before Cross can sell it.
Now, when I say it reminds me of a Disney movie, it’s because there are a series of cliches that appear at rapid fire speed… And, they’re as follows:
1. Ex-con trying to go straight.
2. Reasoning for ex-con going straight involves a daughter.
3. Step-dad doesn’t like ex-con because he’s an ex-con.
4. Inability to see and/or raise daughter causes ex-con to (for some reason) go back to a life of crime (this particular part is VERY hard to swallow).
5. Meanwhile, estranged daughter has resentment and daddy issues for scientist dad.
6. Reasoning for resentment involves one or more of the following: (a) a dead mother, (b) dad works too much, (c) wants to protect daughter by not (for some reason) explaining the details behind mom’s death. In Ant Man’s case, it’s ALL THREE!
7. Daughter doesn’t like ex-con.
There’s more, but you get the point. The movie becomes so muddled and so utterly (and unfortunately) predictable in that 2nd act, it almost drains the life out of the rest of the film. First of all, Scott Lang’s relationship with his daughter just isn’t given enough time on screen to mean anything by the time we get to the climax of the film. His daughter, and that subplot all but disappears from the saggy middle of the film… Which is a shame, because I think a lot of this film’s issues with character motivation could be fixed with a little more of that. Lang’s arc feels the most emotionally realized.
And, that fact makes it that much more unfortunate that they focus in on Hank Pym and his unlikable whiny daughter. The stuff involving them is so textbook novice screenwriting, you can almost see the [insert emotional beat here] in the script template. When their big emotional resolution comes, it’s not cathartic. It’s “thank God that sh*t is over.” Their stuff doesn’t feel interesting enough or developed enough for me to care by the time the movie ends.
Mind you, most of my criticisms mainly (and almost exclusively) involve the 2nd act. Because, the first act was awesome. It’s funny, it picks up quickly, and feels like it has a sense of movement. And, the third act, as I said before, is absolutely excellent. Unfortunately, said third act doesn’t work UNLESS you buy into the emotion stakes set up in the second act. It’s funny, because you can almost feel Edgar Wright’s writing in the first and last act. There’s a cleverness to the dialogue in the first act that reminds me of sh*t right out of Hot Fuzz. Yet, there’s visual inventiveness in the 3rd act that reminds me of “Scott Pilgrim”. The rest feels like a TV pilot, and a not great one at that.
The villain Yellowjacket is easily one of the weakest and most boring villains in the MCU. He poses no credible threat to anyone. In fact, his forced characterization at the end is another cliche I could add to the list of cliches I already gave.
8. Villain holds resentment against surrogate dad, and wants to get back at him.
You see what I mean when I say the middle act feels like a Disney movie?
I can’t fault the director for this. He directs the film with energy and attention to detail. And honestly, he did as best as he could with the script given to him. Because, it certain feels like a script of three different movies mashed into one, and of the three, I mainly liked (maybe even loved) 2 of them. But, the one I didn’t drags the whole thing down a lot.
One of the more surprising aspects of “Ant Man” is a very particular scene in the third act that reminded me of Interstellar’s “5th Dimensional” sh*t. It’s when the movie gets strange that it pops. The weirdness gives it a unique voice. I feel like I’m watching something I haven’t seen in the MCU before in those scenes. But, that’s the problem…
The film I could most readily compare this to is “Guardians of the Galaxy”. It’s unapologetically… even flamboyantly strange all the way through. Ant Man could use that weirdness in the entire film. The film fails to commit to the strangeness of its premise. It feels like it wants to be semi-respect, yet is self-aware enough that it reads as comedic.
So, what you get is a film that wants to be two things, and satisfies neither of those things. “Ant Man” isn’t bad, nor is it boring. What I liked about “Ant Man”, I LOVED. But, what I didn’t takes it down major notches. But, not enough for me to not recommend seeing on the big screen. It’s fun and entertaining… But, in the end, rather than being bad, it feels more like a missed opportunity.
I’d recommend for a matinee.