There’s probably no company that knows its audience better than Marvel. Every time a Marvel movie comes out, the fans love every part of it. I like some of them, and it’s okay if I don’t like others because I’m either into the character and filmmakers or I’m not. At least I can see why fans of that character, or even the Marvel Cinematic Universe, got what they wanted.
I am genuinely confounded by Ant-Man. The character makes sense to me. He puts on the suit and he shrinks and also is super strong. I would want to see a movie about that, Marvel or not. But the Ant-Man movie is nonstop exposition up until the third act, so about 90 minutes. What fan of anything would want a whole movie explaining how it works? You want to see it in action, not spend the whole movie trying to convince nonbelievers. That’s the fan’s job to do after the movie.
So they explain how organic matter can’t be shrunken, only inorganic, which is also the same problem Seth Brundle had in The Fly. They explain how Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) talks to ants. Why do we need to know how? Just show us his ant communicator. We’ll believe it. Why wouldn’t Ant-Man talk to ants? They explain Darren Cross (Corey Stoll)’s psychology after we already see his behavior. They explain why it’s not going to be Ant-Woman. They explain why it’s not Hank Pym anymore. They explain what happened to Hank’s wife. At least the Janet story is a flashback so we see some stuff that we’d already figured out before, but it’s not purely talking.
Of course they explain who Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is and why he had no other choice but to become Ant-Man. In fact, they explain it twice. Cross recaps Lang’s story later in the movie, I guess so that anyone who snuck into the movie late can still follow along?
It’s all so unnecessary too. We believe the suit gives him the power to shrink. You don’t need to invent the fake meta science that makes it possible. Back to the Future gave us the flux capacitor. You can introduce a piece of fictional technology that allows things to happen in the movie that don’t exist, but just give it a name and we’ll believe that’s the difference between our reality and a movie.
I know it’s all there so that in a future movie they can refer to the stuff they set up in Ant-Man. I guarantee you the explanation won’t be necessary in that movie either. They’re all Maguffins. Focus on what our characters do about the Maguffins, not what makes them work.
Where Ant-Man lost me for good was when Scott kept talking while he’s doing Ant-Man stuff. “I’m going to do this.” “Oh no, that’s going to hinder me.” Are they really worried that we won’t be able to follow the action so they have to guide us through it with monologues? It’s not even banter because it’s stuff Scott says to himself, but really to the audience. There’s a nicely subtle sequence where Scott has to step over ants on the floor, or it would be subtle if it weren’t Scott constantly saying, “Can I step here? What about here?”
The babbling throughout scenes negates much of the comedy. There are some fun ant puns and a good Baskin Robbins scene in the beginning, but it’s clear Ant-Man is trying so hard to be funny, it just wants to be like it’s cool older brother Guardians of the Galaxy. Comedy is more subjective than exposition, but Scott’s trio of bumbling hoodlum buddies are not funny. The Latino/African-American criminal stereotypes are the least of their problems.
All the Marvel movies suffer from exposition to some extent. Some writer/directors are better able to weave it in than others, with Joss Whedon and James Gunn at the top of the list. On the eve of Phase Three, the movies are afraid to leave any questions. Even if you use the excuse that the movie is for all ages, it’s insulting to think that little kids would need exposition to let them enjoy an ant movie. And so what if there are questions after? That’s what gives a movie life.
There is a good answer to the fan question: why don’t they just call The Avengers. But isn’t it equally annoying that now each solo movie has to explain why it’s not an Avengers team up? At a certain point the audience and the filmmakers have to agree that we’re doing a solo movie. At least one cameo gets more to do in Ant-Man than in movies where he was actually part of the core cast!
Once you get through all of the above, there are a few fun “shrinking man” sequences. The visual effects work is good. It does deliver on everything it sets up. Just fast forward through all the talking and you’ll enjoy a fun Ant-Man short film.
Rating: Wait for Cable