in Retrospecticus, Review

Ant-Man (2015)

Original Review: The Smallest Man on Earth (three stars)

I have mixed feelings about this movie, but I think I’m going to rate it higher this time. Where to start? My problem with Ant-Man is that I don’t get his gimmick. He shrinks to the size of an ant and can also control ants, that all makes sense. But also he gets like super speed and strength when he’s shrunk down? When Hope starts training Scott in this movie she explains, “when you’re small, energy’s compressed. So you have the force of a 200 pound man behind a fist a hundredth of an inch wide. You’re like a bullet. You punch too hard, you kill someone. Too soft, it’s a love tap.” Sure enough, later we see Scott zipping around rooms knocking out professional soldiers with a single hit. But it bothers me that it never feels intuitively correct.

We’re pretty far out in the weeds here, I know. Super hero stories require a suspension of disbelief, that’s obvious. For the most part, I don’t even really think about it when I watch people fly or conjure lightning bolts or shoot a USB stick into a port from an airplane. I’m good with that. It’s only every once in a while that something sticks out to me and makes me wonder if it’s consistent with the story’s inner logic. It happened when Iron Man’s first suit lost power and he crashed into the sand dune but was totally unharmed – why was that? I’m always a bit fuzzy on how Thor’s powers work, how tied they are to to the hammer seems to differ depending on the movie. Scarlet Witch’s powers don’t make any sense at all! Most importantly: when Hulk spits out that tooth, did it grow back when he turned into Banner again?

These sorts of questions are what comic book nerds exist to debate, they love coming up with detailed theories to explain away vagaries and inconsistencies. I’m not interested in theories or official canon justifications, I just wanted to bring up that when these questions start popping up in the audience’s heads, you’ve written something problematic. Sometimes that can ruin a movie, like Superman turning back time by flying around the world, but mostly it’s not that big a deal, merely a temporary weirdness, like Superman throwing his emblem at that guy. I think how much “just go with it” leeway a movie has depends on audience good will. Which is a bummer for Ant-Man, which has the most “just go with it” energy of the whole MCU but not a lot of good will headed its way.

Because, of course, every time I think Ant-Man, I think of the missed opportunity of getting to see Edgar Wright’s version of this story. Wright is an auteur who dedicated years to making this movie happen, and then it all fell apart. Given the surprising gift for super heroics he displayed in Scott Pilgrim, and the amazing relentless inventiveness of Baby Driver, the thought of his version will always be tantalizing. The things you want most are the things you can’t have, right? Peyton Reed came in to hastily put Wright’s assembled pieces into some sort of whole, and he did remarkably well. But this movie was already living in the shadow of Age of Ultron, doubling down on doubt by adding a production scandal really didn’t help.

I’ve been re-watching the MCU mostly alone, late at night. There were a handful of jokes in Ant-Man that made me chuckle out loud. That means something, right? I don’t just laugh at stuff when I’m by myself, I’m not some sort of maniac. I like Scott’s extremely cartoony friends, especially Michael Pena as Luis, a.k.a. the one punch man. This is a good movie, if not a great one. Certainly one of the most re-watchable with its breezy pacing and sub-two hour runtime. Marvel ended their genre experimentation phase with a heist movie, gotta appreciate the effort. If only it could have found even more uses for shrinking so I could spend more time entertained and less time scratching my head.

Oh what the hell, we can’t go this long talking around fan theories without me sharing one. Here’s mine: I think Hank Pym discovered how to shrink and started calling himself Ant-Man and no one got it so he invented ant mind control just so he wouldn’t have to change the name. Like, the Pym Particle and controlling ants are two totally separate things. Not just separate inventions, separate branches of science. He mostly used ants to fly around, but we know he invented wings for the Wasp suit, so why wouldn’t he just give himself wings? Because he’s stubborn, and embarrassed, and for some reason thinks the name Ant-Man is really cool.

Canon time! Ant-Man opens with a scene of young Michael Douglas quitting SHIELD in the Eighties which features both Peggy Carter and Howard Stark (the John Slattery version). Side note: I can’t believe how often Howard Stark comes up in these movies, he’s in like all of them. In lieu of Infinity Stone gobbledygook, we get a brief scene of Hank and Scott talking about the Avengers, which situates their heist in time (post-Age of Ultron). Falcon shows up midway through the movie in a totally contrived scene in which Scott must steal a thing from Avengers HQ that doesn’t actually matter to the plot. But it’s worth it because that gets Scott into Cap’s inner circle, which leads to him getting called up to the big leagues in the next movie we’ll be revisiting, Captain America: Civil War.

MCU Power Rankings: Is it better than The Incredibly Boring Hulk? Yes. Is it better than Iron Man I vant my bird? Yes. Is it better than Thor and The Dark Elves… I think so. Is it better than the first Thor? Ugh, that’s tough. For now, let’s say yes and stop there.