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REVIEW: ANT-MAN Encourages Audiences To Rant, Man

The tiny titular character at the heart of director Peyton Reed’s Marvel movie has giant-sized problems – the most glaring being his cinematic anthem is almost a complete mess. Two parts sluggish heist movie, one part hackneyed emotional drama, and one part typical Marvel-ous (not actually marvelous) mayhem, ANT-MAN is a rare and rather unfortunate misstep in an otherwise illustrious journey for the brand. Failing to combine the zany fun of a B-movie with the wit and retro-cool of Soderbergh, the film will make you want to grab the nearest can of Raid.

The story – scripted by Edgar Wright (the visionary auteur who was originally going to direct), Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and Paul Rudd – doesn’t start out the same way every Marvel film begins, forgoing explosions for heavy exposition. I will give it that. We’re plopped into the middle of a heated argument circa 1989 between Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his board members during the cold open – with Douglas’ younger CGI’d self looking so good, I thought he was reprising one of his oversexed characters from that era. Anyhoo, he’s fighting to keep the tech behind his top secret “Pym particle” hidden because he knows it’s super dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands. And guess what happens?! It does. Pym’s protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has dedicated his entire career to perfecting this legendary formula with hopes to weaponize it. In order to stop him, Pym enlists the help of Robin Hood-esque career criminal Scott Lang (Rudd), who’s looking to get back into the good graces of his cute-as-a-button young daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson) and ex-wife (Judy Greer, who’s amassing quite the resume playing the sadsack mom of Summer ’15). Suffering from a similar relationship strain with his own daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Pym recruits Lang to take on the mantle (or pick up the helmet, rather) he originated of Ant-Man – only the road to superhero stardom isn’t going to be easy when the fate of the world is at stake and the threat is growing more maniacal.

ANT-MAN has this weird dichotomy of being both overripe and underdeveloped. At its core, Reed wants to sell us on the heist movie aspect – but it’s a total bore at that. His attempts at crossing the vibe of Adam West’s BATMAN with the energy of OCEAN’S ELEVEN (in both music and atmosphere) is admirable, but in execution is confoundingly clunky. Trouble is, he never quite gets there with either homage, and it leads to an identity crisis of mass proportions. More accurately, Marvel has made a movie about “daddy issues,” wherein everyone has them. While the filmmakers do manage to add fun and ingenuity to the shrinking sequences, it’s far too fleeting. There’s little to no kinetic energy in this picture. When it’s not lulling the audience to sleep with expository dialogue and villainous speech dumps, there are loads of awkward silences. At least we get a shot of Rudd’s abs to represent the female gaze.

Along with the wall-to-wall, over-verbose explanation of practically everything, characters and the situations they find themselves in are severely underdeveloped. Darren’s narcissism never feels deeply menacing in an intense, Lex Luthor sort of way. It’s not for lack of Stoll trying – the material afforded him doesn’t give him a moment to shine. One dimly lit scene drinking champagne and getting his ego stroked does not a villain make. Characters refer to things we never saw take place, leading me to wonder if sequences were hastily chopped and re-assembled. Anything dealing with setting up MCU’s Phase Three is integrated in the most ham-handed of fashions. There’s a scene where Hope talks Darren down, stating, “The particles! They are making you crazy!” How can this be if we’ve never seen this character in his suit powered by said particles?! Resolutions feel unearned, and at times stand to blindside audiences. A kiss comes out of nowhere when no sexual tension had even remotely been built up. Comedic relief from Scott’s trio of criminal buddies/ band of merry men (played by Michael Pena, Damien Dastmalchian and T.I.) flails instead of taking flight. They serve as an annoying contrivance rather than give way to genuine laughter.

Listen, you may enjoy or even adore ANT-MAN. I would say if you’re new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you could make this your entry point; there’s really nowhere to go from here but up – even with the two lethargic THOR movies. Though there’s some minor cursing, this would be perfectly suited for ages 8 and up (depending how liberal you are).

1.5 out of 5

ANT-MAN opens on July 17.

 

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