Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Ant-Man



Another few months, another Marvel Studios outing, another opportunity to talk about all the same thinkpiece topics: if it comes from a studio, can it still be called auteurism? Have we outgrown the origin story? How does this play into the larger Avengers timeline?  Do we like this actor? What can we say about the way female characters are used here?  As much as I tend to enjoy the films, I have to admit that I've grown seriously weary of writing about them. Case in point: Ant-Man has been blocking up my blog posting for at least a month now, not because I didn't like it or don't have any opinions on its success as a piece of entertainment, but because it's a movie that exists almost on its own rubric.  Writing about the comic book actioner has become kinda like grading variations of an assignment around the same prompt: there may be stellar examples or mediocre ones, but the language used becomes repetitive. 

This is my own fault, partially. I've thought about responding less with a formatted evaluation and more with an analysis or essay.  Why not reposition my vantage point? Why not actually tackle one of those questions full on instead of doing a scattershot rundown of pros and cons?  Or, why not just make an actual flat list of the things that work and the things that don't.  For example:

Some things that work in Ant-Man:
The small-scale heist structure
Paul Rudd's charm
Michael Pena 
The jokes- spoken and visual
The fight scene with Falcon
The proper use of Michael Douglas
A lack of world-ending destruction

Some things that don't really work in Ant-Man:
The half-baked family drama
Corey Stoll
Giving Evangeline Lilly the universal "cold woman" look
Not really using Paul Rudd's charm
Did they need to kill that one ant? 
Why is Judy Greer playing another boring mom?
I mean, that's it. That's really all you need to know, right? I feel kinda relieved, if we're being honest, though in some ways the brevity of the rundown does a disservice to a film too many are already dismissing as a frothy little trifle in the Marvel canon. Ant-Man was marketed lightly and the conversations around it seemed weighed down with contradictory evaluations.  On the one hand it's a film worthy of attention and praise exactly because it shirks the larger than life stakes of a film like Age of Ultron, on the other it seems to be the comparatively "small" scope which many have used to devalue its perceived worth.  

Sure, Ant-Man is a much smaller movie than we've grown used to from Marvel, and the big ticket discussion topics that come with Avengers-sized box office numbers are weighted in a more immediate way. It doesn't help, either, that the film's production was hit with setbacks that were not accompanied by a delayed release. There's something a little bit scattered and haphazard about Ant-Man, something not quite as finessed or over-polished as it should be.  Yet, to discount the film's potential is akin to dismissing Ant-Man himself.  The film is a smart, comedic variation on its genre, and a sort of welcome breather from the glossy Marvelverse we've grown used to.  If you're caught up smugly dwelling on its low-key effects or lack of stakes, you're missing what it does have to offer; namely its impressive - and often sly - visual wit.  Ant-Man seems to be a comedy first, a heist film second, and a superhero movie third.  In all of these categories it is successful to a point, and it's perhaps that lack of conclusive identity that prevents it from being the knock-down success it could have easily become.  It's a little too subtle and quiet to feel like a hit, and as an audience we're perhaps reluctant to attach ourselves to a still-developing character who hasn't been guaranteed a run of sequels and tie-ins.  When a film can craft a world in which trained ant soldiers are a believable asset, though, I'm willing to pay attention and give it the benefit of the doubt.  Don't write it off yet, with time this could prove to be a variation on a genre standard with its own influence and merits.  


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