Ant-Man shoots off at the blistering pace of a post-2000 Scorsese movie or a heist comedy, but it takes shortcuts to get there and some important aspects fall through the cracks.
The movie stars Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, a clever thief fresh from a three-year stint in prison. Unable to hold a job and pay child support to his ex-wife (Judy Greer), who won’t let him see their daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson) without doing so, Lang turns back to crime when his roommates (Michael Peña, T.I. and David Dastmalchian), ex-convicts themselves, tip him off on a vacationing millionaire’s mysterious safe.
The millionaire is tech mogul Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and the safe contains nothing but his old shrinking suit. Lang steals this, and when he puts it on, Pym reveals that he set the whole thing up to test Lang, eventually training him with the suit so he can help steal a similar suit from Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), Pym’s old protege who took over his company has been working to unlock the secret to people-shrinking, which Pym successfully kept from the world.
Got all that?
Writer and would-be director Edgar Wright and Marvel said from the beginning that Ant-Man would be a heist movie, and they did a great job capturing that feel. Luis (Peña) goes into two long-winded explanations of how he came up with his tips in fun, multi-setting, multi-character sequences that feel like the beginning of a devil-may-care crime spree. When Pym and his daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), are training Lang to be Ant-Man, it’s a planning sequence straight out of Ocean’s 11.
Whether it was Wright and co-writer Joe Cornish or the re-writes from Rudd and Adam McKay, the script is funny. Rudd’s subdued straight man act goes over even without a funny man, and he carries the film gracefully.
The thing about heist movies is they’re irreverent. They’re fast and fun. Like their principle characters, they get in, do what they came to do, and get out. It’s the mark actual director Peyton Reed was going for and it’s the mark he hit, but it came at the expense of developing his characters, and that’s sad because there was a lot to work with.
Pym and van Dyne have a complicated relationship. Janet van Dyne, the family’s matriarch, died when Hope van Dyne was 7, and Pym has been estranged ever since. The two were thrust together against Cross before the movie started — neither want Cross to successfully complete his shrinking suit, and van Dyne is a trusted member of his staff — but both clearly have unresolved angst toward each other. This plays out over Lang, whom van Dyne doesn’t want to join the team.
On the subject of Cross, he’s left a lot to the imagination as well. Pym and van Dyne talk a lot about how he’s crazy and that’s used to justify his actions, but he never seems that crazy. He kicks the dog a couple of times — one of them is experimenting on lambs instead of rats, which is somehow supposed to indicate particular cruelty because he’s experimenting on a bigger animal — but “unbalanced?” “Unstable?” Cross is not these things. He’s not onscreen long enough to be these things. The character they describe is really interesting, but Stoll is playing a standard-issue villain.
Also, what’s with this desperation to keep shrinking technology away from SHIELD when they’re playing around with Tony Stark’s reactor and tesseract-powered weapons? Pym throws the word chaos around a lot, but it’s already a pretty chaotic organization. He believes the shrinking tech will be too much for them to handle if they get their hands on it, and the audience is meant to believe that too, but there’s no indication of that being true. As a matter of fact, they indicate the opposite by training this random ex-con to use it masterfully while also telepathically controlling ants.
There’s a lot of telling and not a lot of showing, is what I’m saying. At 117 minutes they kept it short, and everyone appreciates that, but they glossed over what is apparently a much more interesting story to get to that length. It’s a fun movie, but it feels like a missed opportunity to make a really great one.
Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Every movie ever sucks. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@.