#16 in my Ranking of The MCU Phases 1-3.
This movie is intentionally light in contrast to the large movies that precede it. I think it’s a good idea overall to vary a franchise’s output in tone, scale, and even genre, but Ant-Man specifically doesn’t really work.
The problem is the fact that the main character has no real stake in the central conflict of the story. Scott Lang is an ex-con just released from prison for burglary who wants to go straight in order to be a good father to his little girl. After getting fired from Baskin Robbins because of his criminal past, he joins up with some other ex-cons to pull a small heist. He breaks into an old man’s house, gets past both high tech and low tech security and walks away with a suit that he finds out later makes him the size of an ant. After some back and forth in prison, the old man, Hank Pym, recruits Lang to steal some technology from the company that Pym founded by had been kicked out of some decades before.
And that’s the actual conflict at the heart of the movie. It’s between Pym and Darren Cross, the current CEO of Pym’s company. Cross is recreating the Pym Particle, the techno-babble nonsense that makes the shrinking possible, a technology that Pym had created many years prior and tried to bury because of its potential implications and uses. Pym doesn’t want Cross to get the technology because he sees in Cross some unstable elements, and he’s right of course.
What does Lang have to do with this fight? He’s essentially a mercenary and never has any stake in the central fight itself. He gets roped in because of his need for money and Pym’s desire to use his thieving skills (as well as his desire to protect his daughter Hope, who is also in on the plan), but he doesn’t have the right level of interest to be the protagonist in this specific story. That’s entirely Hank Pym. Pym is the protagonist, but he’s built into the story as a secondary character. It creates a weird dynamic within the fabric of the narrative.
On top of that, the movie’s structurally odd. The entire second act is essentially one long training montage, and it drags. It’s entertaining in spots, but ultimately it barely moves the story forward in any significant way. It’s Lang sort of amusingly learning his skills while we get massive amounts of exposition about rules of the world, especially rules around ants.
And yet, the movie has some entertainment. Paul Rudd is winning as Lang, and his thieving cohorts (led by Michael Pena) are amusing. The two times that Pena tells stories (the first to introduce the heist and the second the end the film and set up a bit in Captain America: Civil War), the editing becomes almost frantic in order to keep up with Pena’s quick mouth. They’re easily the most enjoyable moments of the film. It makes you wish the rest of the film had been told with a similar energy. The special effects are amusing and different. The juxtaposition of things like a toy Thomas the Tank Engine feeling threatening is enjoyable.
However, the story overall is so poorly assembled with a main character that’s not actually the protagonist, a below average antagonist, and a dragging second act, that I simply cannot find the fun in the work as a whole.
Netflix Rating: 2/5
Quality Rating: 1.5/4