Ant-Man – flashes of great, but ultimately tone boned

just got back from Ant-Man. cracked out on too much soda. so. quick review/thoughts.

I liked a lot about it. Michael Pena stole the movie for me. I already liked his work, but I loved it all here. Evangeline Lilly is once again bizarrely sexy, badass and emotional, while still somehow seeming like she was in the wrong movie (maybe because she wasn’t very funny? or the way some of her big looks felt like one note confusion or one note frustration instead of layered real people time? … maybe i’m being too hard. but there’s some weird flavor to all her performances that rubs me wrong. but I still weirdly really enjoy her performances.) Michael Douglas felt like himself, instead of the character, but i guess he usually does (and everybody loves it?). and poor Paul Rudd was the same loveable goof, somehow robbed of his star making movie.

i think the core problem was tone. but also some of the strange story telling choices.
it felt like a punk rock script that was made into a car commercial.

Spoilers follow:

1) the opening scene got me all excited, because it’s cool to see Stark and Carter, and it establishes Pym as a maverick renegade. this would be cool if the movie was about Hank Pym. or if “ant-man” was treated a character of his own, with a legacy to protect, instead of a suit. If you want this movie to be about Scott Lang – and you want it to be a star vehicle for Paul Rudd – it needs to start with Scott Lang.
Imagine if the movie had been with Scott as he gets out, goes on a heist, and THEN we meet Hank Pym for the first time.

+ also, the CGI to young-enate Michael Douglass was really good. but i know it’s fake. so i spent the whole scene looking for flaws in the effect instead of paying attention to the acting or story. wish they’d cast a younger actor to play him. it might have solved the misstep of revealing his character too early (and making it seem like this was a movie about Michael Douglas)?
Imagine Shia LeBouf as Hank Pym in that opening scene. it would have been weird, but you would have been wondering about the acting instead of scrutinizing the CGI.

2) I remember giving up on the movie maybe half an hour in. maybe 45 minutes or an hour. I had to admit that despite all my plans to embrace Paul Rudd as a big action star, and this movie as a surprise home run – I just wasn’t enjoying it. something felt wrong. over and over. so i stopped trying to enjoy the movie and started trying to figure out what was rubbing me wrong. Later I decided it was the tone. His ritualistic punch-in-the-face send off in prison was a weird joke i didn’t understand. it didn’t FEEL like a dude getting out prison. Crashing his daughter’s birthday party and getting shit from her new dad didn’t FEEL like an awkward family problem. Putting on the suit and hearing voices in his head didn’t FEEL like he was losing his mind. And despite the “big props and sets” that were so wonderous in Honey I Shrunk the Kids, the bathtub and the DJ record and the ants all just felt like a hip VFX reel that came in from some other movie.

Later I realized I’d fallen into the movie. That it was working and I was digging it on many levels. but. first half was kinda fucked.
(i teared up during “the moment” scene. I was worried for Lang when he was trapped in the magnifying glass chamber. I was engaged by the filmmaking).

3) I think half the jokes fell flat because it felt like you were watching a lifetime original movie. pretty lighting and conventional cutting and shot placement. Once you got into miniature world and crazy fish lenses and weird lighting got involved, it felt like a much more rambunctious experiment. but some part of my mind was saying “that’s because these are the action sequences that were already planned, and probably already being made before they started shooting the actors.”
look at all the bits with ants underground. the rich lighting and movement feel like some other movie.
and by the time crazy ants are launching floating orbs off their backs to create a bunch of particle beams from shorting out servers, for ant-man to fly through of course, it felt like the kind of comic book bullshit we all got tired of. Reality blown.

+ wasn’t the point that crazy ants conducted electricity? Would have been nice for them all to fry in the computer, like little sacrifical pikmin, and let Ant-man be a little sad about killing a thousand underlings. Really weird that they worked in this device so they could all survive.

4) and on and on.
+ At some point I realized this was a story about a crazy old hermit (mad scientist even) who was self funding an attack on his old company. THAT would have been a nice tone to convey in the movie. let Michael Douglas play a bit unstable and angry.
+ A lot of the music cues were great. but they just reminded me how conventional the cinematography and editing was. Whether Peyton Reed had cool music ideas, or Edgar Wright wrote them into the script doesn’t matter. because it just reminded me how wild Scott Pilgrim was, and made me pine for Wright’s version of this movie.
+ the thomas the train and giant ant gags were good. but they felt like left field creative surprises that would delight in an indie film. Since this film FELT like a big budget super hero movie, they just felt like weird left field duds. show us the ant doing ANYTHING like a dog, to establish it’s character. show it being put outside, or sitting there sad over a bowl of stuff it can’t eat. When it ate scraps from the table, I was like “HOLY SHIT THAT FUCKING MONSTER IS GOING TO KILL THE LITTLE GIRL!” but the parents never addressed it, and we never saw it again. huh. weird tone.

5) I was on the edge of my seat as Lang descended into quantum tiny. Not because it was a surprise, or I actually thought he’d die there. Because I was sure they were going to have Doctor Strange walk in and save his ass. They’ve noted in interviews that Dr.Strange’s “magic” will be explained away as some sort of quantum phenom (ugh). so. ok, i’m on board now. nice way to set it up! maybe he’ll have janet pym in tow. maybe she hasn’t aged a day! that’d be weird and sad for Hank. and maybe this will be the definitive break from the rules we know which will setup the transition to Phase 3 marvel movies. mayybeee. come onnnnn.
As every weird little image of the Quantum shit unfolded, I was geeking out on it’s maybe-connection to psychedelic Dr.Strange comics of old. but. nope. totally wrong.
And it occurs to me now this would have been realllly bad storytelling. To have some other character save the day, that half the audience has never heard of.

but it would have worked in this movie. because this movie has several character from other movies showing up for no great storytelling reason. ie. Falcon, and peggy, and stark, and the post credits sequence. I think I would have preferred the shock of Doctor Strange walking in an saving the day. maybe taking a shit on pym’s scientific explanation of everything and leaving.
A couple times i looked at Pym’s weird old mansion and wondered if it would be revealed that he was Stephen Strange all along. they’re both kind of weird old hermits who hide amazing things from the world in antiquated mansions.
oh well.

6) Now I can’t stop wondering what made Edgar Wright walk. Was it the weird intro that ruined the surprise of revealing Hank Pym in Scott Lang’s story? Did Hank’s wife die in some other fashion, that didn’t set up the quantum space (which will SURELY return in Dr. Strange).
It did strike me as odd that they established how time doesn’t matter in the Quanta. so. It would have been fine for Lang to return to his Daughter’s bedroom a year later. instead, he basically returned right where he left. so. time held on strong. despite the setup. that was a little weird.
Maybe it was the Falcon fight scene? which was all about getting some sort of signal disguising coil that Stark stole from Pym? that felt a little sutured in.
but none of it really seemed outrageous.

I’d love to know if Wright’s version would have done something to better establish the ants. when Anthony bought it, it was played for emotion. but. it was pretty bizarre luck that he got hit by a bullet. and we didn’t know him at all, except that scott had given him a name. he was just one of many CGI effects. eh. soo. I wonder if one of these cameos was pushing out time where we might have seen Scott bond with some of the ants. or bond with Hope. or maybe explore the relationship between Hope and Darren (they easily could have established they were a couple once. but instead it seemed like that was a detail which was edited out).

i dunno.

hope some day we’ll know.

in the end i’m probably being too hard on the movie.
lots of fun jokes. a couple good drama bits. some great CGI ant action. i think it really just failed in holding its tone together.

… I keep thinking it felt like that not-so-memorable episode in the middle of a good season of TV. The early Marvel movies all felt like pilots for interesting shows. and the Avengers movies felt like good season finale’s. so this feels like a monster of the week that kinda keeps it all moving along, but doesn’t mark out it’s own innovative territory.
and this is probably a big problem.
I think we all dug the original Iron Man because it took a lot of chances. it’s story was pretty weak. it was all about the tone, and the crazy rock star moments. And Ant-Man totally could have done the same thing. …
I dunno, maybe that’s why they fucked around with it. huh.

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