Apple TV+ have finally unleashed a trailer to reveal the ingredients that promise to spicen up the spooky in the now infamous Philly brownstone where virtually the entire series of “Servant” has taken place so far. Executive produced by Academy Award-nominated director M. Night Shyamalan, the ten-episode second season is all set to premiere around […]
Ant-Man is already at a disadvantage for those who know its production story. Of course not everyone will, so here is a brief summary. Edgar Wright wrote the script for years with Joe Cornish. Edgar Wright was going to direct the film. The studio wanted something different and Wright did not want to compromise his vision and left. We still don’t know the full story on why and what disagreements, especially since Wright has producer, writer and story by credits. The studio asked Adam McKay to direct. He passed, but did a rewrite of the script for them. Finally, Peyton Reed (comedy director famous for Yes Man, The Break-Up and Bring it On) decided to direct it with another rewrite (according to the credits) by Paul Rudd.
That sounds like nothing much and it feels unfair to judge a film on its potential of what it could have been rather than directly what it is. After all, some of our favourite films had terrible production problems, but came out swinging. Surely film criticism should be of the actual film, not the tumultuous production surrounding it? Sadly, the production issues fester, staining the film this time around for an obvious reason. Edgar Wright directs with a clear personality. His brand of romantic-meta comedies with whip pans on top of whip pans has become a visual style associated with the director. A big-budget studio about a niche superhero with Paul Rudd and a director with personality was such an exciting prospect. All that remains is a huge shadow as well as the highest form of flattery: imitation.
Peyton Reed is not renowned for having a directorial personality. The films mentioned above are not bad films, but they do not scream a brand of filmmaking. Instead, possibly by his own volition – who knows – Peyton seems to avoid obvious authorial choices in his films to the point where they feel constructed autonomously. What has followed it seems is a conversation with Marvel that must have gone similarly:
“We like Edgar Wright’s style.”
“Sure, of course.”
“But we want less of Edgar Wright in the film.”
“So can you basically do some Edgar Wrighty things, but not too much Edgar Wrightiness?”
“You’re damn right I can!”
Thus, Ant-Man spawned from an imitation of another man’s distinguished style. Years of hard work standardised to Marvel’s creative formula. All this may seem like a vicious attack on the film for not being another film – which is massively unfair – it is not intended to be so. Instead, the potential of what it could have been has to be recognised due to their clear mimicking of the original helmer. The other film could have fallen flat on its face, like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World sort of did. It is time to focus instead on what the film actually is.
Ant-Man is the origin story of Scott Lang’s Ant-Man. Not Hank Pym’s, the original. Instead, Hank Pym becomes a mentor to the moral cat-burglar who managed to hack-the-unhackable, breach-the-unbreachable, punch-the-unpunchable, scale-the-unscalable thanks to his parkour skills. Scott Lang wants good honest work, swearing off breaking into places and stealing some shit. Of course, Scott Lang has to break into somewhere and steal some shit to be the hero. Hank Pym’s other original protégé, Darren Cross (for some reason pronounced Derren, but played by the fantastic Corey Stoll), is close to recreating the secret that built their resentment for one another.
What Ant-Man really nails is the comedy, as you might expect. Although the trailers are some of the poorest constructed by Marvel that make the jokes fall flat, in the context of the film they hit. Especially every single thing Michael Peña gets to do in the film. Paul Rudd brings his typical comedic charisma with a bit more leading-man cheek than usual. It all works too. Rudd is ruddy fantastic in everything he gets to do, even when the script is not as strong. The third act of this is not as grandiose as every other Marvel film which, thankfully, is a blessing. The smaller stakes are more intimate. It is Ant-Man too. It really had to be a smaller set-piece than the previous four Marvel films. Sadly, there is still that save-the-world third act building that is eye-rolling. There is only so many times that Marvel can save the world before it becomes exhausting to resist it. Let it happen. If so many people want to destroy the entire world, they must have a fairly good reason to by this point.
All-in-all, Ant-Man is a mixture of pastures new while being more of the same. Quite impressive a feat to make the film new yet been-there, done-that. Ant-Man’s best traits is its comedy which it really gets right. Action sequences are fun, exciting and different enough from previous Marvel instalments to be worthwhile. The cast rally around a script that is too decorated with exposition that comes with a side of melodramatic cheese – a line that Hank (Michael Douglas) says to Darren (Corey Stoll) induces a heavy heave. For all its newness in the Marvel universe, the film is standardised to a formula that is starting to break the camel’s back. Although the film is exciting to watch, there is nothing to take away from it other than it had the potential to either be fantastic or a flop in the interesting hands it originally was. Instead it is an average film and is that not somehow worse?