Ant-Man continued Marvel’s hit streak, earning nearly twice its main competitor at the box office on opening week. Reports noted that it was the second lowest opening for a Marvel movie, following The Incredible Hulk. The two films make for interesting comparisons for more than just their relatively low grosses. Both deal with father figures who pit the “chosen” surrogate son against the “fallen” surrogate son. In both that same father figure tries to manipulate his daughter’s affections to sway the sides. Whereas the Hulk concept plays into the aging lion--General Ross losing the love of his daughter to an infinitely stronger younger man--Ant-Man flips the motif. Here the mad search for the Pym Particle sees both of the surrogate sons shrinking themselves, in effect infantilizing to fight for approval.
Daddy issues are surprisingly common in Marvel films. Thor is the most complex, but Iron Man also lives in the shadow of his father. Only Captain America bucks the trend. Steve Rogers is born more of a time and place than from flesh and blood.
Ant-Man boasts a notoriously difficult production cycle. The finished film has seven writers, and probably many more script doctors were employed behind the scenes. But the biggest ghost hanging over this film was the original director, Edgar Wright.
What’s in a director, especially in a Marvel movie? I bet the costumes were already in place when Peyton Reed signed on to direct. I also imagine that the credits were completed without much input. I’d even bet that many of the effects shots were already under way. So much of these movies must be on auto pilot at this point. Teams of autonomous contractors and third parties, each with a specialty. Indeed, how many Marvel films even seek out a unique look? Sequences of Captain America the First Avenger, perhaps, and Guardians of the Galaxy, otherwise all the Marvel films, stretching all the way back to Blade are fairly interchangeable. The same lighting, the same color pallets, the same framing.
Truth be told, I’m reluctant to name Wright a genius of the art. While Shawn of the Dead was an incredible film, I loathed Hot Fuzz. Still whenever a gag in Ant-Man falls flat or feels forced you can’t help but wonder what Wright would’ve done with the material. Would Michael Pena and T.I. still have been reduced to Three Stooges roles, or would Wright have wrung something more interesting out of their relationship? Would Wright have made something more out of Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) who commits cold blooded homicide so early in the run time that he runs the risk of being a simple 2D villain. I give the actor and the role a bit more credit, assuming that he’d already been driven mad by exposure to the Pym Particles, but I feel that’s more gracious than the typical audience member.
For me, much of the humor fell flat, though not for lack of effort on the leads. Fortunately the movie-proper was a well balanced affair. The action sequences were strong if not inspired. The leads meshed fairly well. By far the strongest asset of the film was Michael Douglas. He plays Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man and developer of the tech that allows for the shrinking. The whole concept of Ant-Man veers toward ridiculous, and invites parody while repelling respect. So it is here, with Paul Rudd’s casting in the title role Marvel surrendered rather than trying to fight against the perception of the character. Not so with Douglas who’s performance channels his earlier Black Rain. Its all clenched teeth and clenched fists. Woe betide anyone foolish enough to mock the concept.