In what has almost become a modern version of the classic Hollywood studio system, Marvel has created an “expanded universe” that encapsulates every known hero and villain that fans love to see on screen. While there is something fun about seeing Iron Man hanging out with Hulk or Thor shooting the breeze with Captain America, at the end of the day, the creativity doesn’t seem to be oozing from the studios that pride themselves on digging into the more unthinkable heroes to bank on.
It worked last year with Guardians of the Galaxy and now we have Ant-Man, an Edgar Wright project that turned into a Peyton Reed joint once the famed British comedy director bowed out. It isn’t right (ha!) to compare the two, but with the circumstances that led Wright to leave the project (a push from Marvel to tie the properties together rather than letting them fly on their own), it becomes more clear why he wouldn’t want any part of a movie that still, deep down, carries the DNA of the director of Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End.
But, under the personality that Reed and others bring to it, the movie seems like another cog in the Marvel machine that has one eye on the future rather than a concern with what is happening in front of them.
Ant-Man follows Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), an ex-convict who has been released from jail after serving for a burglary of the company that he worked for. Lang now enters the world with a tattoo across his face labeled “convict” that inhibits him from finding any reasonable work and keeps his daughter from seeing him due to her new step-father (played by Bobby Cannavale) and his ex-wife’s (Judy Greer) resentment for his life choices.
So, naturally, he sinks back into the thieving game with the help of Luis (Michael Pena), Dave (T.I.), and Kurt (Dave Dastmalchian) he attempts to break into the safe of a millionaire who is gone for the week. Instead of finding cash, he finds a special suit, and with it an opportunity to do something better with his life thanks to Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the man he stole it from.
Thanks to a tacked on, unnecessary, opening sequence, it shows that Pym was in league with Howard Stark, Peggy Carter, and the rest of the S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives that we have been loosely remembering over the course of 12 films. Now, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is after Pym’s special suit as the now head of Pym’s Particles looks to make his own mark on the science landscape and create a new super weapon (sound familiar?)
While there is a lot that is dull about Ant-Man, there also is a lot to like. After Wright and screenwriting partner Joe Cornish left the project, Rudd and Anchorman director Adam McKay went over the script and “Marvel-fied” it, but left a lot of the aesthetic that you would normally see in an Edgar Wright film. The quick editing, cuts, and jokes are still there if not feeling a little underdone in the hands of a lesser director.
Not to say that Peyton Reed does a poor job because with the hand that is dealt to him, he does a lot with it. The movie has more heart than previous Marvel movies with a focus on family and fighting for something more than just honor, duty, or fame. This time, Lang fights for his daughter and the ability to spend more time with her under a respectable job that doesn’t include “going somewhere and stealing some shit.”
Rudd is winning as the lead character as his charisma and likeability works for him about the same as it did for Chris Pratt in last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy. He is a good leading man and never seems to take himself seriously. But the problem is, Marvel does want us to take him seriously because there aren’t many other characters that we can take seriously in his place — namely Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) or Pym’s daughter.
Marvel has repeatedly been criticized for its use of female character throughout their films with no diversity in the lead characters, unless you want to count the future that includes Black Panther and Captain Marvel. While watching Ant-Man, I almost saw the storyline of Hope’s to be a symbol of how Marvel treats its female character. Throughout the movie, Hope shows that she is more-qualified and more-suited to wear the Ant-Man suit than Lang, but Pym continues to deny her that right citing his inability to let her go due to the death of her mother as the main factor.
But to me, it looks like this. Marvel has given us female characters that have every right to be on the team, or even leading it, over the other characters, but they time and time again push them to the sidelines over the thought that audiences won’t respond to a girl as a superhero. It’s almost as preposterous as making a comedian do sit-ups, putting them at the front of a movie about a hero that can control ants, and pushing it up on the screen.
If they can make Ant-Man, they can make a female superhero movie and while there is one on the way, it doesn’t count when public pressure led to the decision.
Ant-Man has personality, but still falls into the mold of Marvel movie and never tries that hard to break from it. It is another telling sign that auteurs aren’t allowed in this exclusive club and that the director isn’t the one controlling the picture, but the minds behind him. It also is another illustration (if not a very vivid one) that Marvel doesn’t trust a girl to run their movie and that may be the most concerning note of them all.