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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Ant-Man movie review: superhero reduction

Ant-Man yellow light

Marvel’s tiniest hero stars in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s smallest movie so far, one that loses Paul Rudd’s charm among familiar comic-book action.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Paul Rudd

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Marvel’s tiniest hero! Now starring in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s smallest movie so far. Also its most run-of-the-mill movie so far.

This was bound to happen eventually. There are only so many ways you can take a guy — always a guy! — who’s a little bit messed up but basically a decent fellow who just needs a little redemption to set him on the right road, expose him to a little magical mad science, give him a special suit to run around in, and set him loose on the bad guys.

We have seen this all before. Oh, sure, the details vary, but not a lot. I adore Paul Rudd (They Came Together, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues), headlining here as cat burglar Scott Lang turned compact superhero in a suit that shrinks him to the size of an insect, so it pains me to say that he comes across as a paler shadow of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man. Rudd’s charm is undeniable but feels lost among the big (and familiar) comic-book action and unnecessary 3D, which is more suited to the broader comedy of Michael Peña (Fury, American Hustle) as Lang’s former partner in crime, Luis. (Peña is a riot; he has always been a riveting screen presence, but I had no idea he could be this funny.) Scott is downsized in almost every way from the typical larger-than-life superheroes, but not in any way that the movie takes advantage of: this isn’t a different sort of story about how a regular guy copes with the unique challenges of secret identities and superpowers and the like. It’s a simple, straightforward origin adventure like we’ve seen too many times to be surprised by anymore.

And the film gets so close to finding a different path! We’ve been promised a Marvel movie somewhen off in the future about a female superhero, but Ant-Man could have been it. The movie directly confronts the fact that it would make much sense for Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Real Steel), daughter of the scientist creator of Ant-Man, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas: Haywire, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps), to wear the Ant-Man suit and engage in the heroics required… and then the movie strains to invent reasons why she can’t, and why she must train Lang to do the job she is already more than capable of doing instead. The four (male) screenwriters may have thought this was a feminist nod to how male-dominated comic-book movies are, but all it does is underscore the problem and once again sideline a great female character. Worse, it’s hinted that Hope may get to wear her own Ant-Man suit in a future film, which only raises the question: Why couldn’t she do so now? Why not start there?

That would have given Ant-Man the freshness it needs to measure up to the other Marvel flicks.

Those screenwriters? They are Rudd, Adam McKay (Get Hard, The Campaign), Joe Cornish (The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, Attack the Block), and Edgar Wright (The World’s End, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), the latter of whom was originally slated to direct the film. The stamp of Wright’s unique and invigorating visual staccato pops up here occasionally… it’s in those bits where the film is its most fun. (Though the best sight gag was spoiled in the trailer.) Peyton Reed took over as director, and Ant-Man is a positive joy compared to his two most recent movies, The Break-Up and Yes Man. But he debuted with 2000’s awesome cheerleader comedy Bring It On, and his second film was 2003’s funky retro rom-com Down with Love, yet there’s little sense of any style or personality of Reed’s in the film: this could have been directed by almost anybody.

That those few Wright-ish hints survived to make it into the final movie is perhaps the only truly unexpected thing here: now that Hollywood only has other people’s sandboxes for filmmakers to play in these days, there’s a samey sameness to all the big blockbusters. This is very much in the Avengers universe, and it even deals in a smart way with the obvious question of “Why don’t we just call the Avengers to solve our problems?” But in having a party line to toe and a visual blandness to match without bringing anything new thematically, this cannot help but be a minor chapter in the Marvel story.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Ant-Man for its representation of girls and women.


yellow light 3 stars

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Ant-Man (2015)
US/Can release: Jul 17 2015
UK/Ire release: Jul 17 2015

MPAA: rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate action violence, moderate bad language)

viewed in 3D
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    I get the impression that “girls can’t be superheroes, except as part of a team” is so ingrained in the comic-book-movie culture by now that the filmmakers thought they were being impressive and feminist merely by bringing up the idea.

  • fishnets

    Girls can be SH but for standalone SH movie they need to be as compelling as male counterparts. Which MCU heroines (Romanoff, this future Wasp, Maximoff, Gamora) are not. They are generic, dour in general and especially compared to male superheroes and don’t have charisma. Marvel did way better job with casting male heroes. Women are clearly an afterthought in casting (blah screen presence) and writing (stuck with boring maturity against men’s endearing silliness).

    That said, how’s this review listed as Fresh? It’s anything but. Another example that critics are afraid not to give MCU a pass even when they clearly didn’t like the movie.

  • LaSargenta

    That said, how’s this review listed as Fresh?

    Rotten Tomatoes demands a binary decision: Fresh or Rotten. That means that any reviewer who indulges in nuance — such as this one — has to make a decision which direction that swings when they are posting their review to RT. That is why is is important to actually read the review, as you did, and why RT is actually a pretty poor aggregator.

  • fishnets

    Agreed. RT is TERRIBLE aggregator. By that system, movies with all passing grades and movies with actual raves could end up with the same high score just because both got Positive reviews, even though there’s a huge difference between, lets say, Fury Road rave and this “positive” review. But RT is made for people who don’t read actual reviews. It’s really a dick-measuring contest for fanboys. “Ha,ha, Thor 2 got 64% and MoS only 56%! Marvel = fresh, DC = rotten! DC ass kicked!” And other way around.
    That said, I like Ant Man a lot and disagree that a) Rudd’s charm is neutered here and b) that Hope van Dyne is worth fighting for superheroine status. Typical forgettable “generic strong woman who falls in love with the man whom she initially detests for stealing her spotlight”. She’s not a standout by any stretch of the word. Not worth getting one’s panties in a twist over losing a superhero status to a really likeable guy who doesn’t react to every funny thing with “I’m better than you cause I’m a woman” sulking and smirking.

  • Hope is “not a standout” because she’s not written to be one.

    You might want to reexamine your disdain for female characters, and perhaps consider directing it at the screenwriters who create those characters, and the system that demands them.

  • It’s listed as Fresh because my complaints about it aren’t enough to make it Rotten.

    And I’m not afraid of writing and grading movies exactly as I damn well please.

  • Johanna_nu

    I want to give this article credence, but it is very poorly written and burdened with far too many grammatical errors. I’m by no means saying your opinion isn’t valid, I’m simply stating it’s hard to take seriously when it’s being conveyed so clumsily. Cheers.

  • fishnets

    Hope is not a standout because a) actress has low-voltage presence (also, that wig is awful) and b) she’s a generic character.
    I don’t have disdain for female characters, I have disdain for generic ones. Generic damsel in distress love interest has been replaced by equally dull but PC generic strong woman love interest. Both are cliché and afterthought that’s in the movie to provide male lead with romantic appeal. female characters deserve variety and I don’t see that in MCU and certainly not from this character.
    Also, since studios send spies and plants all over the Internet, comment boards are ideal place to voice frustration with bad writing. They wouldn’t read direct emails anyway.

  • fishnets

    Not convinced but nice talking to you. :)

  • Danielm80

    Try reading the discussion thread about Kingsman: The Secret Service, if you think she’s afraid of provoking people. Try reading what she said about the Scott Pilgrim movie. Try reading the discussion thread on Spring (either of the discussion threads. They’re both pretty heated). There are lots of other examples, if you spend any time browsing the site.
    Of course, if you’re just here to launch an attack for your own amusement, you can do that without any evidence whatsoever.

  • The Punisher

    Learn how to spell. (Biased)

  • fishnets

    Ok, I’m sorry that I said she’s afraid. The review strikes me as negative and I’ve seen fair share of negative reviews rated positive for MCU movies (AoU being a prime example). Reviews that read like 4/10 but were given 8.6/10 rating. This one strikes me as 2 star review but I’m not in writer’s shoes.

  • Jurgan

    People still don’t realize it’s a joke? You’d think the sarcasm quotes would make clear she knows it’s wrong, or you could click the link that explains the in-joke.

  • Bluejay

    Learn how to click for an explanation.

  • Elwood

    “… and then the movie strains to invent reasons why she can’t, and why she must train Lang to do the job she is already more than capable of doing instead.” Which is especially trying considering the movie is loosely adapting a comic book called “Ant-Man and Wasp.” So they had to bend over backwards to exclude Wasp from the movie. Why? So they could tell precisely the same solitary misfit hero’s journey story as always. A missed opportunity to make a movie that was actually different.

  • Jurgan

    It’s especially odd given that, for some reason, they separate Hank Pym and Ant-Man. For those not in the know, Hank Pym and Ant-Man were originally the same character. Why separate them to make Ant-Man a standard “everyman” type? And you’re right, having a male and female couple as equals in superheroing would be something that’s never really been done outside The Incredibles.

  • Bluejay

    for some reason, they separate Hank Pym and Ant-Man.

    To be fair, Scott Lang is also canonical in the comics as the second Ant-Man, taking over the role from Pym.

  • If you would like to point out some of my many grammatical errors, I will fix them. I found (and fixed) one extremely tiny spelling error, one that did not impact in any way my meaning.

    So please: tell me how this “very poorly written” and where all those “far too many grammatical errors” are.

  • You really don’t get it? The Hope we see in this movie is not the Hope we would see as the protagonist in a movie made with the same level of care with which this one was made. Unless you’re suggesting that either 1) Paul Rudd and Scott Lang are low-voltage and generic here, or 2) Women protagonists can *only* be low-voltage and generic *because* they’re women.

  • Try reading some more of my reviews before you dismiss me like that. Or, if you have read more of my reviews, name a dozen that I’ve been timid in writing about.

  • Bluejay

    I get the impression that “girls can’t be superheroes, except as part of a team” is so ingrained in the comic-book-movie culture

    To be honest, I’d pay to see some of those teams onscreen. :-)

    http://media.comicbook.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/x-men-1-all-women.jpg

    http://wac.450f.edgecastcdn.net/80450F/comicsalliance.com/files/2015/04/A-Force_1_Cover.jpg

    But yes, as has been mentioned, we *are* getting Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel films. Now we just have to wait two or three more years. *sigh*

  • The Punisher

    White Knight definition- The last two posts.

  • Bluejay

    Call me whatever you want. Doesn’t change the fact you made a stupid post. :-)

  • The Punisher

    Yes, Sir Bluejay.

  • Mant

    Biast isn’t a word.

  • Shiraz

    OK, dispshit. So glad you’re gone.

  • Shiraz

    Right on. And what about the Runaways? There’s potential there.

  • Shiraz

    Err, you’re post is weirdly smug and condescending, considering it lacks critical analysis and any insight of merit. Maybe you’re a little too mansplainy to take seriously. I dunno, I thought your post sucked and was clumsily conveyed. Maybe your opinion isn’t valid, considering my own personal values.
    Cheers.

  • Constable

    More like Irritated Patron.

  • Constable

    A competent editor would provide examples from the text in question, the lack thereof makes me doubt the integrity of your criticism.

  • Constable

    I don’t agree with your crude choice of words but I agree that characters should serve a greater purpose than “token.”

  • Constable

    I believe he’s trying to voice his disdain for token female characters.

  • Constable

    Are you saying that MC should just not bother with writing female characters?

  • Constable

    You don’t say?

  • Constable

    This sounds like Marvel’s “Green Lantern.”

  • And you’ve just outed yourself as an MRA or a red piller or whatever you guys are calling yourselves this week.

    If you are unable to engage in adult conversation, cease commenting here.

  • Neither is “Mant.”

    Do you have something to say about my review?

  • And yet he thinks they’d be exactly the same if they were protagonists. That’s disdain for women and/or for protagonists of any gender.

  • fishnets

    No, I’m obviously saying they should stop writing them as after-thought generic male fantasy tropes and start writing them as actual persons. Also, improve casting. Scarlett Johansson doesn’t fit the character physically so she doesn’t blend with her Omni-present stunt double at all. if a character is supposed to be a major action figure than cast an actress who at least has physicality to look convincing as an athlete and blends well with her stuntwoman. Charlize Theron impressed so much in Fury Road not just because the character was well-written and her acting award nomination-level but also because she looks convincing as a fighter. The build, the way she carries herself and blending with her stunt woman made Furiosa real.
    Evangeline Lilly is C list screen presence who’s currently getting “oh, yes, she’s in the movie too” type of reviews, and many times isn’t even mentioned beyond plot synopsis. For actress who is supposed to become Marvel fan favorite Wasp, you’d expect breakout star reviews (that Margot Robbie is getting off 2 min trailer for Suicide Squad). But nope. Zip. Zero. Barely mentioned in a footnote. Michael Pena emerged as the break out star. And this isn’t just poorly written female character. It’s a mix of poor writing and serviceable actress who doesn’t even wear character’s signature hair well (ages her about 10 years or so). This is all wrong. Wasp is a major deal in Marvel so they should have found top talent with charisma who can pull off that Wasp bob like Zeta Jones did in Chicago (oh, yes, did I mention that Velma Kelly level of charisma should have been a must?).
    I’ll wait and see what they do with Wanda cause Olsen is great. I approve of that casting but now it’s writing’s turn. AoU didn’t do much beyond making her deranged which is fine considering that other heroines are boringly composed.

  • Bluejay

    True, but my post was focusing more on the all-women teams. I’d like to see a Runaways film too.

  • Danielm80

    I wouldn’t go that far, but I think the film is going to improve Edgar Wright’s reputation tremendously.

  • The Punisher

    I’ll post whatever the hell I want.

  • Bluejay

    She can delete whatever the hell she wants too. ;-)

  • The Punisher

    Again, White Knight Definition. She ain’t deleting shit.

  • Bluejay

    Yep, you’ll be banned soon. Nice talking to ya.

  • The Punisher

    Having white knights and fat chicks complaining about my posts, ban away bitch.

  • RogerBW

    So anyone who disagrees with you is a term that you apparently consider pejorative. You must be lots of fun at parties.

  • The Punisher

    I am. Just ask your mom.

  • BraveGamgee

    Eh, I know you’ll be gone soon, but out of curiosity: what makes you assume that obese women are replying?

  • The Punisher

    Still here, but only fat asses sit at home and complain about other people’s posts.

  • The Punisher

    Oh yeah, that bridge troll insulted me first.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    The quality of troll around here has been slipping lately.

  • amanohyo

    Never thought I’d see the day Frank Castle was reduced to making your mom jokes. What did those Marines do to you? They hurt you didn’t they? They hurt you real bad. So you promised yourself that you’d never let them hurt you again.

    And now all you have left is rage – rage at a country that lost its honor, rage at a world that dares to call a mediocre movie mediocre. No one laughs at Frank Castle! Teach us what it means to hate. Show us your pain. Tell us all what it means to be the blackest of Knights.

    After that’s taken care of, if it’s not too much to ask, maybe you could say a little something about the movie? Did you enjoy it? Why or why not? You know, that kind of thing. The kind of thing that the average person scanning a comment thread underneath a movie review might find interesting and/or relevant.

  • The Punisher

    Just commented on the article and trolls come out of the woodwork.

  • LaSargenta

    I think they’re losing heart and just can’t muster any real aggression.

  • Danielm80

    We’re starting to approach the end of the summer. The big releases are mostly by-the-numbers sequels: Minions, T5, Ted 2, and Jurassic World, along with Ant-Man, about a super-hero without much of a following. I think even the people who liked those movies thought they were pretty mediocre. If MaryAnn had attacked Fury Road or Age of Ultron, or if Edgar Wright had directed Ant-Man and she hated it, anyway, there might have been more backlash. But right now, she’s just agreeing with the conventional wisdom, so we’re attracting people like the Punisher, who troll for the sake of trolling.

  • LaSargenta

    We’re starting to approach the end of the summer.

    Noooooooo!!

    We’ve only just started summer hours at my job…I haven’t gone on holiday yet…haven’t even thought of buying school supplies yet….

    Waaaaaahhh!

  • bronxbee

    i saw the film, and i don’t think it will do anything for Edgar Wright, who had a pretty solid reputation anyway. AntMan is… all right, but very uneven. there are some very clever and hilarious moments, but they seem to come out of nowhere and are kind of appended to some of the story. the moments i like i won’t post here because of <> but i think EW has much better movies both behind and ahead of him.

  • Danielm80

    When I see the film, I expect it to be perfectly okay. But even Wright’s less successful films are really interesting. If he’d directed this movie, I suspect, it would be much weirder, which is always a good thing. A lot of people, including MaryAnn, are already coming out of screenings saying, “If only Edgar Wright had made this…”

  • Jwcorey

    I don’t always see eye to eye with everything you say Maryann (respectfully, though; I keep coming back of course), but your point about Hope being the obvious choice for the job that was passed to Scott Lang is inarguable. There is absolutely no way to put a bandaid on that failing or twist it into a more appealing shape through a little-known fan theory. It’s simply bad writing.

    And the thing is, a good writer could have sidelined Hope (never mind why that’s even necessary), with fundamentally better writing. I found myself sitting there thinking “Why not pretend she was going to do it and then incapacitate her with a near-fatal blow from Yellowjacket so Scott has to take over for her?” I craved some reason… ANY reason to explain her playing Pit Crew to Lang.

    To me, that’s the most disappointingly sexist part of all: It’s weird enough that they kept a strong, competent, driven character with motive and animus on the sideline, but they didn’t bother to build enough story around to explain it away other than “My dad said I can’t.”

  • Allen W

    To be fair, films like Supergirl, Catwoman, and Elektra don’t fill me with confidence that Hollywood can do a female superhero movie well. I think it is distain for Hollywood writers, or at least those who work on superhero movies.

  • Danielm80

    Frozen, Mad Max: Fury Road, and the Hunger Games films were pretty good movies about superheroines.

    Back when Supergirl, Catwoman, and Elektra were made, lots of people were saying that films with female leads don’t make money. Lots of people would also have said, back then, that a film about a gun-toting raccoon and a talking tree wouldn’t work. Lots of people were wrong.

  • Jim Mann

    The movie that will tell us whether this is true may be Captain Marvel, but that’s a way off yet. She’s one of the strongest and most interesting characters in the Marvel universe, and I really hope the film handles her correctly.

  • And the many movies about male superheroes that are shit? How did they make you feel about male superhero movies?

  • As long as the tree and the raccoon read male, it’s all good.

  • RogerBW

    Well, obviously they’re a normal tree and a normal raccoon.

  • Allen W

    I don’t think of Frozen, Fury Road, or Hunger Games as superhero movies any more than Aliens or Terminator 1/2 are superhero movies. They are action/adventure, for sure. I’m not asserting that action/adventure movies with female leads can’t be well written or can’t do well — obviously that’s not true. I’m saying that Hollywood’s track record with female supers is pretty bad, and I have low expectations that the writers can do better.

    As to Mary Ann’s response, most superhero movies are badly written — I approach most of them with very low expectations. Marvel has had a decent run — I’ll given them more benefit of the doubt. Some of the Batman and Superman movies were good, even excellent — but enough of them stunk to make me cautious.

  • Danielm80

    Elsa has the ability to control ice, and she’s hated and feared by the people she wants to protect. She’s an X-Man.

  • Allen W

    When she’s not being Dr. Manhattan. ;)
    Seriously, though, the X-Men actually wanted to, and did, help and protect people by fighting threats; as one does, if you’re a superhero (and as Janet van Dyne did, and as Hope wants to). Elsa turned out surprisingly non-psychotic, considering her childhood; but all she wanted was to be left alone, both before and after she “let it go.” We don’t even have any indication that she really wanted to be Queen, or that she particularly cared about her subjects (beyond not wanting them to freeze to death because of her), or that she planned on ever interacting with them after the coronation.
    By the end of the movie, of course, she’s more civic-minded. I wonder if she uses her powers to help the region’s ice-mining industry? Or does she drive them out of business?

  • Bluejay

    She’s an X-Man.

    She could have been, anyway. She just needed a push in the right direction.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dach1nPbsY8

  • David C-D

    This was a painful comment thread but you made the whole thing worthwhile!

  • Tonio Kruger

    By that logic, she’s also Hispanic because the most famous real-life celebrity who has that name is also Hispanic. Come to think of it. most of the people I know who are named Elsa are also Hispanic. :-)

    And Merida — the name of the heroine in Brave — is a name that is traditionally more likely to be found in Hispanic countries than in Scotland. Hmm….

  • Tonio Kruger

    Having once worked with two women who had to stop working on a computer tape destruction project because the magnetic field of the machine used to erase the tapes was playing havoc with their periods, I can’t thinking that it would be entirely possible for certain types of new technology to have entirely different effects on men and women — and that this effect might have been used as the reason why Hope was not picked.

    Then again I saw enough good old-fashioned chauvinism at the above-mentioned job that it seems silly to rule out sexism as the obvious explanation for why Scott was picked over Hope.

  • Tonio Kruger

    For what it’s worth, the trailer for the new Supergirl TV series that comes out next fall seems more compelling than most movie trailers I’ve seen in the last year or so.

    And it certainly sounds more promising than the upcoming Heroes miniseries…

  • fishnets

    Agreed. Plus Benoist is adorable. I noticed her in Whiplash, happy she’s breaking out.

  • bronxbee

    i know an Olga, a Hilda, and an Elsa, also, an Ivan — all hispanic. and i knew a Merida, a young mexican girl whose family i lived with, who was named after the town in the yucatan where they had a ranch… i do like that name. but being of scots heritage myself, the movie Brave was the first one where i ever heard a scot named that.

  • Hank Graham

    Well, I finally caught up with this one, and wanted to add a few thoughts.

    I completely agree that it should have been Hope in the suit, and it would have been a far more interesting film if they’d gone that way. The guy who posted that he didn’t think Evangeline Lily had much energy in her part is either insane, or saw a different movie than I did. However, Hope getting interested in Scott struck me as perfunctory and unconvincing, and I found it even more insulting than not getting the gal into the suit.

    Finally, the slight taste of Wright’s touch on the project are intriguing, and I really wish they’d have let him make the movie he wanted to make. I suspect I’d have liked it better than this.

    I didn’t hate it, but I suspect it will be quickly forgotten.

  • Bluejay

    Peyton Reed has said in an interview that he wished people wouldn’t speculate on which parts of the movie were Wright’s idea, because they often got it wrong.

  • halavana

    possible spoiler…

    personally I would like to have seen Hope’s mother resurface. she was the real superhero in the movie, IMO.

  • halavana

    *facepalm* you’re kinda new around here, aren’t you…

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