Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a modern Robin Hood of sorts. Jailed for robbing corporations that were stealing from the poor, Lang is given one more chance at life following the end of his jail sentence. For Lang, this means making his way back to his daughter Cassie’s (Abby Ryder Fortson) life. Despite a Masters in electrical engineering, the only job Lang can score is one at Baskin-Robbins where he’s promptly fired for lying about his criminal record but not before being eulogized for his former criminal actions. From there, Lang is pulled back into pulling heists, so that he may pay child-support, proving to his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) that he can be a capable father. Unknowingly, Lang steals the “Ant-Man” suit—a piece of armor that allows the user to increase/decrease their size at will all the while retaining their strength. Lang is contacted by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the inventor of the Ant-Man suit, with a proposition: becoming Ant-Man, Pym needs Lang to destroy Pym’s research material before it can be used to create super-powered suits en-masse and sold to the highest bidder by his ex-disciple, Daren Cross (Corey Stoll). In return, Pym will ensure Lang the chance he deserves at returning into Cassie’s life.
What temporarily separates Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man from the rest of its Marvel film counterparts is a sense of camera-work that makes the child-like glee of reading comic books real. The filmic components of Ant-Man—cinematography, editing, sound, etc.—come together to heighten the action in both a comedic and dramatic level that is uniquely cinematic. Take for example one scene where Ant-Man must break into a server room and shut-down the computers in order to complete his heist. Standing on top of a platform while he is miniaturized, Ant-Man takes a survey of the server room, and the view is breathtaking. Recalling the opening images of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), the computers of the server are made to resemble a futuristic city, complete with pulsing neon lights. The composition of the shot described above is made possible due to Ant-Man’s superpowers and then facilitated by the camerawork. It is during moments like this one, and there are many, when Ant-Man is at its finest.
Unfortunately, the rest of Ant-Man is still mired in the standards of Marvel films and thereby the standards of Hollywood. The result is that for all the cinematic joy within Ant-Man, there seems to exist twice the amount of worn-out dialogue, romance, and villains to slog through just to reach the former. Characters and character relationships leave much to be desired in the way of being fleshed out. Consequently, the lack of development leads to the proliferation of either tired tropes or further highlight the missing gaps in the at times poor and too convenient writing. Backstory may be brought in because the script calls for it; the audience must see the development happen within the temporal space of the film or else there should be no drama. Yet, while I do acknowledge that these small developments do happen, such as the bonding between Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and her father Hank, these dramatic moments between characters still remain contrived because of their convenience to the plot. It’s as if the world of Ant-Man only began to move once Scott entered the frame.
The material for Ant-Man to be truly different from its MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) counterparts is there. Unlike Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Ant-Man is made more grounded by being a regular human with real problems. While Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is also a human within a suit, there is a disconnect in the relationship between Stark and the audience. This disconnect exists because Stark’s problems are ones which result from being a super-hero rather than being human. Lang’s problems are able to exist outside of the super-hero genre, because they’re human ones. This means that there is much more room for how the character of Lang—the estranged father—can be explored yet this is never seen to fruition. The relationship between Lang and his daughter is never developed. While the audience can understand that Lang’s daughter loves him because he is her father, what was Lang’s role as a father like? Similarly, the relationship between Hank and Hope goes from one extreme to the next too quickly without proper development.
While Ant-Man’s play with filmic components in relation to its action-driven narrative surely make the film stand out, the overall writing of the film remains a major weak-point. The same joy and fun brought to the action remains absent in the quiet moments of the film which then only serve to carry the film forward rather than build it. Complex characters and relationships are hinted at but never explored. Ultimately, Ant-Man never fully realizes its unique experimentation and thus remains standard.