Welcome to our 11 Days of Marvel bonus round! In this project, Bill and Erin went through every single extant film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and wrote their reactions to them! The project started here, with Iron Man, or you can click here to see all the articles in the project. Today is about the latest movie in the MCU, which has been out for less than 24 hours:
THERE ARE SEVERAL SPOILERS IN THIS POST. THERE ARE A BUNCH IN THE WHOLE PROJECT, AND IT FELT WEIRD TO REFUSE TO SPOIL THIS ONE. BUT STILL, IF YOU ARE GOING TO GO SEE ANT-MAN AND DON’T WANT ANYTHING SPOILED FOR YOU, READ THIS LATER.
Spoiler alert! The good guys win! Evil (or something like it) is vanquished! The Avengers, much to Paul Rudd’s disappointment, are not called! That being said, this was a surprisingly fun movie. To be fair, I have not yet seen it twice (unlike the other movies in this series) so perhaps the second time around the jokes will run flat and the action scenes will be boring. At this moment in time, however, I am willing to say that Ant-Man is really quite funny and not too full of itself. Which is important, because this movie had to be part camp. There is no real world where Ant-Man is necessary when you have Iron Man, Thor, or the Hulk.
What I enjoyed most about this movie is its playful sense of space and timing. The scenes don’t play on too long, gags are not overused (although, like all good brick jokes, they are referenced enough to make you feel like an insider), and Ant-Man’s use of his small and large self is refreshing and fun. Overall, this movie is fun. I am not sure that it feels in any way like the rest of the MCU so far, and I am okay with that. I am okay with the stakes being a fallen hero’s daughter and not much else. I am okay with the largest emotional attachments being between daughters and their fathers. And I am definitely okay with Evangeline Lilly becoming the Wasp (although she was still not enough of a badass female scientist. Where are they, Marvel?!?). I actually felt sad when Ant-Man’s ant-steed died, and if a movie can make the death of an ant feel important, then I think they have raised the bar considerably.
All in all, this movie make me remember why a super hero movie might appeal to the child inside of me. While it sets up for other movies, it is basically a heist movie, and that is actually fun and fine with me!
Favorite Moment: I really enjoyed the personification mixed with utility that seems to be an inextricable part of Ant-man’s ant companions. Whether they are building beautiful lattice structures or becoming a pet for his daughter, the ants are never a grotesque other.
Worst Moment: This villain is dumb, and I am with Hope Van Dyne: why isn’t she the Ant-Man to begin with?
Best Pre-positioned Tank: SPOILER: There is a surprise tank, and it is beautiful, funny, and perfect in every comedic sense.
1. Captain America: The First Avenger
2. Iron Man
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
4. Avengers: Age of Ultron
5. The Avengers
7. Iron Man 3
9. Guardians of the Galaxy
10. The Incredible Hulk
11. Iron Man 2
12. Thor: The Dark World
So, yesterday I said that I thought Ant-Man, which is technically the end of “Phase 2” of the MCU, would be more predictive of the future of the franchise than Ultron. Accordingly, I felt like a lot was riding on this movie: if the MCU could introduce a new (and fairly goofy) superhero in a way which felt both fun and unique, it might still have some life in it, 12 movies in. If, however, Ant-Man was a trainwreck, either too crowded with references to other movies to be an end-in-itself or too much like the other solo movies, that might imply that the MCU had run its course.
Ant-Man’s troubled development (goofball comic director Edgar Wright had been attached to direct it for almost a decade before bowing out a week or two before production started) and somewhat uninspiring trailers left me more than a bit worried, and so I went into the theater with several concerns.
First, I worried that the movie (which was clearly attempting to be more of a comedy) would spend its whole running time apologizing for the silliness of its concept. The trailers loved to show other characters reacting to the name “Ant-Man” as though it was somehow offensive, and nothing can kill a superhero movie like trying to apologize for its comic book roots. These superheroes only work if they are played more or less straight: as soon as the movie starts winking at you and rolling its eyes, everything falls to pieces.
Second, I worried that Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang would just be yet-another snarky white guy, more or less indistinguishable from Tony Stark and Peter Quill. We don’t need another generic goofball in the MCU, and if Scott can’t establish his own identity, there’s no way he can hold his own against Robert Downey, Jr. Particularly not since his superpowers are infinitely goofier than the Iron Man suit.
As it happens, I needn’t have worried. Ant-Man is actually a pretty fun time.
It’s definitely the closest thing to a straight comedy in the MCU at the moment: even Guardians of the Galaxy has a smaller jokes-to-other-things ratio. Director Peyton Reed has a lot of fun with size-based visual humor, switching from up-close bombastic action to distant shots which reveal everything in the previous shot was only an inch tall. Ant-Man’s weird size-changing shuriken-things allow him to shrink or embiggen various household items, to both comic and tactical effect, and the trailers thankfully don’t spoil all of those jokes.
The biggest problem with this movie is Corey Stoll’s Yellowjacket, who is a supremely generic villain who is given almost nothing to do. There’s some gobbledygook about how the Pym particles have been driving him crazy, but there’s no depth there: he’s a designated villain, a canned Evil Corporate Scientist, and poor Corey Stoll deserves better. Yet it probably doesn’t matter very much, because the movie isn’t about him: unlike Guardians of the Galaxy, which needed a believable villain to unite the team, and fails because it doesn’t have one, Ant-Man is a heist movie, and is thus more about the team and the fun they are having than about the villain they are robbing. And at least he doesn’t want to destroy the world, which is refreshing as heck.
Scott Lang is not the most interesting character we have seen, but Rudd actually brings a fair amount of complexity to what could have been a very one-note performance. Sure, most of his lines are jokes, but there’s a real sadness in his eyes that drives all of his actions. He’s doing this to maintain a relationship with his daughter, and he knows that the reason that relationship is in danger is his own fault. He genuinely wants to be a hero, if for no other reason than because his daughter thinks he can be one. That’s a very different motivation than we have in the rest of the MCU, and I think Lang’s different perspective (as an ex-con who still mostly hangs out with lovable crooks) will be welcome in the MCU.
Erin and I have been watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine lately, and I think it’s one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in years. But I realized most of the way through Season 2 that almost all of the wacky hijinks the 99th Precinct gets up to are fairly predictable: you know more or less what’s going to happen in the episode by the five minute mark. If a character says he will absolutely not do a thing, you better believe that he will be doing that thing ten minutes later. It doesn’t play with the sitcom formula, or subvert it, but rather dwells in it, making no apologies for what it’s up to, but nevertheless excelling within the formula. Ant-Man feels a bit like that: several of the story beats are telegraphed fairly early on, but I don’t care. It’s funny, and a good time, and has its heart in absolutely the right place, and I don’t actually know what else we want from this sort of thing.
Favorite Moment: Chekhov’s Tank. Erin called it about ten minutes before it happened, and I was thrilled when she was right.
Least Favorite Moment: Darren Cross killing the miscellaneous government guy early on in the movie. There had to have been a better way to establish that he was a BAD DUDE rather than random murder. It killed any chance at complexity he might have had. I was most worried about this movie right after this scene.
Bill’s (Provisional) Rankings: (I reserve the right to adjust these after seeing Ant-Man a second time and getting a clearer picture of its quality or lack thereof.)
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
2. Captain America: The First Avenger
3. The Avengers
4. Iron Man
5. Iron Man 3
6. Avengers: Age of Ultron
9. The Incredible Hulk
10. Guardians of the Galaxy
11. Iron Man 2
12. Thor: The Dark World
And Now, A Conversation
Erin: I like your comparison to Brooklyn Nine-Nine. You are correct: one doesn’t have to re-invent the wheel to still make a very enjoyable movie!
Bill: I think that’s important to remember: most of these movies are not going to be earth-shattering life-changers, and that’s fine. I do think a lot of folks were disappointed when Edgar Wright wasn’t directing, and thus projected that disappointment onto the movie. (I’ve been reading some reviews in an attempt to get some perspective.) It’s not a super-satirical subversion, and I think that disappointed some folks. But, like, it’s a really fun movie, and I think its genuineness is part of why it’s so much fun.
Erin: Also, it is nice to see some situations where a smaller hero might actually be the way to go. My only real complaint is how utterly dumb “going subatomic” is. SO DUMB.
Bill: Yeah, that was pretty whatever. It’s definitely not a perfect movie. But it’s a lot better than I was expecting. I did like all of the running gags with his ex-con criminal pals. And I’m glad we got to see a little more of the Falcon.
Erin: Indeed. I think my only complaint with is sidekicks was that they are a bit racially (and by a bit I mean a lot) stereotyped.
Bill: Yeah, I noticed that as well. Maybe not great, particularly since I think Luis might be the first named Hispanic character in the franchise so far. x_x Oh well. Baby steps, at least.
Erin: Well, I am not sure if that is an answer, and I am not sure if you need to be the one to answer it. But I don’t particularly like only casting minorities as lovable thieves. They could have easily been Jesse Pinkman and that would have been better.
Bill: Well, this brings us to the end of our MCU project. Do you have any thoughts on the franchise as a whole, past or future?
Erin: I am a bit disgusted that there are so many more movies, and the Black Widow is still not up for her own.
Bill: Heard that.
Erin: It makes me mad at the whole franchise. How about you?
Bill: I don’t know: the fact that Ant-Man was pretty good makes me think that this silly franchise might have another few years left in it before it inevitably comes crashing down, which is heartening. I like most of the movies. I’m not sure how to judge the value of the franchise as a whole, though, even now. I mean, sure, I enjoy it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing. Do we really need eight thousand superhero movies? I don’t know. I’m not sure I know what the alternative would be, though, and so I can’t say whether this is better. I will say that, although executive meddling runs rampant through the entire franchise, I do feel like a lot of actors and artists really do give it their all in these movies, and I can respect that.
Erin: I am sad that so much capital goes into things that are probably never going to be, like, art. That hurts me a bit. I am not sure that it is any worst than most action films, but I do think that many other movies do a much better job of being inclusive and giving women actual things to do. This is a very, very, very white franchise. And I don’t know how much more of that we actually need. I think that is my main concern — what isn’t getting made because these actors and this money aren’t being channeled into other things? Although then the dirty capitalist in me says “Milk the masses for all they will give you.” It is very disconcerting.
Bill: Well, I suspect the answer to “what isn’t getting made” isn’t, like, super-diverse and thoughtful art about the human condition. It would probably be pirate movies or yet more spy movies or more (white) historical epics. I do hope that the franchise gets more diverse, if only so we can tell the characters apart when we see them in huge tracking shots. x_x
Erin: I just think at least with a pirate movie you don’t have a whole cultural group climbing all over themselves to discover everything before the movie even comes to theaters. There is a strange desire to predict everything that I find odd. It becomes more about a cultural inside joke, a way to tell the true believers from the heathen non-comic fans.
Bill: Yeah, I’m not super fond of that desire to dissect every single frame of every trailer. io9 has a whole feature where they post industry rumors and leaked scripts, and that’s pretty gross. I hear some of that sort of thing since I live on the Internet, but I try to avoid most of it.
Erin: It’s like if I worked Kant into everyday conversations and then gave flack to everyone who didn’t remember minute references to the Prolegomena.
Bill: Indeed. Well, thank you very much for joining me on this ridiculous project! I hope you enjoyed it!
Erin: I enjoyed myself a lot! But I don’t think you’re going to get me to see a superhero movie for a while.
Final Rankings and Awards:
Worst Hair Award: (Erin)
This is a toss up between Scarlett Johansson’s original red hair (ouch, couldn’t they have made sure it was the same color throughout all of filming?) and Evangline Lilly’s extra severe, aging-her-15-years black bob. Not cool Marvel, not cool.
Cutest Kid Award: (Erin)
Ant-Man’s daughter is adorable. I have the horrible feeling that they might have pulled her front teeth specifically for this role, and a dark side of me is totally fine with it because she was SO STINKING CUTE.
Characters We Needed Much More From: (Erin)
- Jane Foster. She ought to be the baddest of the bad ass female scientists. If Portman was too expensive to use as much as they’ve used Erik Selvig, they should have cast someone else. (She neither adds nor detracts from these movies.)
- Hawkeye/Black Widow. If they don’t do a prequel with these two doing some kind of spy thing, Marvel are idiots!
Bill’s Super-Scientific Major Villain Ranking
1. Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger, Iron Man
2. Ultron, Avengers: Age of Ultron
3. Loki, Thor
4. Alexander Pierce, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
5. Aldrich Killian, Iron Man 3
6. Johann Schmidt/The Red Skull, Captain America: The First Avenger
7. Loki, The Avengers
8. Ivan Vanko/Whiplash, Iron Man 2
9. Emil Blonsky/The Abomination, The Incredible Hulk
10. Darren Cross/Yellowjacket, Ant-Man
11. Ronan the Accuser, Guardians of the Galaxy
12. Malekith the Accursed, Thor: The Dark World
Well, folks, that’s it for the 11 Days of Marvel project! Here’s hoping you enjoyed our silly ramblings. Comment below if you have any thoughts, and we may do something like this again, if people seem to enjoy it!