Eaker vs. Eaker is the latest “send Alfred to the summer blockbuster movies so that he can curmudgeonly complain” event, but with a twist, cinema fans and friends! For the first time (without even knowing it), you voted to send Alfred and his wife, Aja, to the flicks and have them duke it out, publicly, about each so-called-blockbuster. Everybody here knows all about Alfred’s cinematic savvy, and his cranky-old-dog approach to film critique. Now, you get 2-for-1: Aja is Alfred’s beloved clinical and counseling psychologist partner, who loves to counter just about every cinematic point Alfred makes. You didn’t choose to send us to Ant-Man (2015), but we went nevertheless.
How much of the script for Ant-Man (2015) was written on a chalkboard? I imagine a bunch of executives sitting round the table, outlining the plot for its six writers: “To be successful, we have to follow the Marvel formula, have archetypes, etc.”
“Well, we can do it like Iron Man. Have the hero in and Ant-Man suit and a villain in a rival insect suit.”
“Ok, but Ant-Man is little. So what other movies are there about shrunken people.”
“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”
“Ok, good. What else?”
“The Incredible Shrinking Man.”
“Well, maybe, but that’s kind old, isn’t it?”
“Hey, it is about ants, so what about the Ants move?”
“Good thinking. Let’s look at Ants too. We need to give him a mentor, some comedy relief, and a femme fatale babe.”
“Ok, good, but we gotta give Ant-Man something to fight for. Audiences love little girls. Let’s give him a daughter.”
“Yeah, and the villain goes after her like that Octopus guy went after Spiderman’s aunt.”
“Or Lex Luthor when he went after Lois Lane.”
“We can even have a bald villain, like Luthor.”
“Let’s develop all that and up the ante. Make Ant-Man a divorcee—kind of a loser. He only gets to see his daughter on weekends.”
“Yeah, and his ex-wife is married to a jerk.”
“Right, and after learning her biological dad is Ant-Man, the daughter learns what a true hero he really is.”
“Now, we’re rolling. What else?”
“Let’s use the corporate bad guy plot, you know like making the big business guys trying to get the secrets of the suit, so they can sell it to the military.”
“The mentor can be a misunderstood scientist, like in Captain America.”
“Speaking of Captain America, don’t forget an Avengers tie-in.”
“And a Stan Lee cameo.”
“Brilliant. Let’s get the writers in here, now.”
Ant-Man is a disjointed hodgepodge of half-baked ideas “compiled and inspired” by everything you have seen before. You hope in vain that it will go over the top, at least once (think Joe Dante) or surprise you. Alas, it never does. You leave the film, knowing it did exactly what you expected it to do: nothing.
All is not completely lost. It does have a commendably self-depreciating lead in Paul Rudd. He does not look or act like a superhero, and that is the crux of the film’s charm. Being a movie about an insect-sized hero, it attempts a sense of humor, and even if the jokes are pedestrian and predictable, that’s more than you can say about most of the Marvel entries.
The film opens on Michael Douglas, adorned with CGI botox. I kept expecting him to inject the film with his screen persona. It never happens. Douglas walks through the film as the star name, like Attenborough guiding us through a dino park, pontificating about the dangers of his invention if it gets into the wrong hands. Even worse is the set-up for Evangeline Lilly. She has the potential to be the most interesting member of the cast, but is wasted, presumably as a teaser for her own spinoff of The Wasp Woman (“A beautiful woman by day—a lusting queen wasp by night!”)
How can a film go wrong with a bald baddie? Unfortunately, Corey Stall lacks the trashiness of Telly Savalas or the zealous glee of an Albert Dekker (Dr. Cyclops). He merely trades his dinner jacket for a “yellow jacket,” making for a yawn-inducing villain—a cardinal sin in this type of product. The comedy relief is thoroughly awful, although there is a hilarious bit about Baskin-Robbins. A potentially terrific cameo from Thomas the Tank Engine is also short-changed. Perhaps the producers should have watched Irwin Allen’s “Land Of The Giants,” to learn how to milk “little people with big toy” potential.
The origin story is too long, as per the norm, and the lone Avenger cameo is an unnamed, apparently minor character with mechanical wings. Ant-Man was created by Stan Lee and the late Jack Kirby, who always was and remains more interesting than Lee. Lee’s obligatory cameo reeks of a historical product placement for the Marvel Universe brand.
A near final scene of the estranged whelp feeding an oversized ant under the table during a birthday party is a case of groan-inducing “family” humor (the ants had more personality as carb-saturated super-sized predators in 1954’s Them). Apparently, daddy’s little girl inherited his Dr. Dolittle talents. Such obviousness is only topped by the self-conscious cutesiness of three convict stooges.
The film does boasts a strong, artificial color palette, which was still better executed in 1990’s Dick Tracy (a film that looks better with age). There is also a quantum, sub-atomic scene that looks like it leaked out of a 1970s toy kaleidoscope. With a half-likeable, geeky performance from Rudd, Ant-Man is probably better than most of Marvel’s recent cinematic output. However, it is also so sketchy and so vapidly unmemorable that you’ll quickly forget this also-ran.
On the bright side of Ant-Man, I was able to catch two catnaps. As the resident insomniac, anything, which puts me to sleep (short of pharmacological intervention) remains impressive. Perhaps the lightest moments within the film occurred when other, obviously equally bored, viewers made the darkness aglow with Facebook status updates and Pintrest.com perusing. I made two columns across three pages, carefully considering the movie’s pros and cons. In fairness, this whole critique could understandably be discarded—it remains the opinion of our filmmaker guru friend, whom we coerced into joining us for the Ant-Man matinee, that since I technically did doze through two (apparently humorous) moments, my review should be considered null by true film snobs.
Ant-Man left me with more questions than triumphant encouragements. I honestly cannot recommend that anyone familiar with the lather-rinse-repeat formula that has over-saturated cinema spend cash—unless you happen to be a trust fund baby who doesn’t mind being bored—as the movie followed the predictable story arcs of Iron Man, Autobahn, and Transformers: Age of Extinction. Unlike Tony Stark’s Iron Man, our hero lacked any sort of psychological or characterological depth; there was not even enough ego present for sarcasm to work. Even the villains were bland, except for Michael Douglas’s CGI facial metamorphosis. I wonder what entertainment attorney worked that into Douglas’ clause—to magically appear eons younger. It was aesthetically interesting, if not weird and creepy.
Here are the main problems with Ant-Man:
- Nothing was ever really at stake.
- The hero’s daughter/ex-wife/her current husband lacked any sort of emotional pull, making it close to impossible to see how the hero connects with them, especially in a moment requiring him to pull from a reserve of love in order to save himself.
- There were serious questionable physics involved; sorry, but if you shrink to the point of imploding a human into small blob, those atoms and ions have to go somewhere.
- Aside from being able to physically jump a fence, the hero was a zero.
- The comedy relief provided by a group of ex-con gangster immigrants = FAIL.
- Small things (i.e., Ant Man himself) are not inherently scary. America loves giant acts of terror and threats of death. Nearly invisible, ants-as-pets, ants-as-an-army just did not work.
- Dangerous technology in the hands of dangerous people is an overplayed hand.
- The fantasy and technology aspects could have been better explored. For example, returning to the subatomic premise, dazzle us with universe lit up equally with a connected narrative.
- Sharknado had more visual appeal and more creativity. Ant-Man encapsulates a superfluous hero that was a bland hodgepodge, which was neither good enough nor bad enough to have any redeeming qualities worth remembering.
- There was a serious lack of music, which could have been used to amp up the action and make the experience more interesting. Picking better pieces could easily ramped up the kinetic experience of Ant-Man.
Here are the main reasons to see Ant-Man:
- Michael Douglas’s CGI facial freakishness.
- Ants were made into obedient pets and soldiers.
- The woman in the film was the most interesting character—and likely the lead-in to the sequel.
- The Thomas the Tank Engine the cameo was better than LSD with a Jack in the Box toy.
- You could personally project a more heroic persona onto the lead character, thereby sharpening your imagination skills.
- The ant suits are somewhat humorous.
- Visually, there are good CGI ant moments requiring intricate skill, however cartoonish and not grounded in realism.
- The bathtub scene is vis-a-vis of The Incredible Shrinking Man.
- Stan Lee makes a cameo.
- Ant-Man has an aspect of Franz Kafka-like cockroach superheroism. Feel free to pick up a copy of the classic “Metamorphosis” to really appreciate this weird movie.
I leave you with a direct quote from our filmmaker guru friend, David Ross, on his response to today’s Ant-Man viewing adventure: “The Adventures of Tinkerbell Man! Mighty Mouse territory. Flea Circus Boy. Big Biting Chigger Man. All in all, I was left with an undesirable scent of formic acid, not exactly a stench, but the active body smell of ill-considered Hollywood Ant-ics.”
Sincerely Hoping Our Next Film Doesn’t Suck,