There’s an oft-repeated line in the latest Marvel movie “Ant-Man” that invokes the kind of meaningful catchphrase of another bug influenced superhero. “With great power, comes great responsibility,” warns Uncle Ben to Spider-Man to-be Peter Parker. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is more than once reminded of his daughter and told to “be the hero she sees you as.”
It’s such a slight turn of phrase, but it also sets a kind of misfired tone alienating the women in the movie (and in the superhero genre in general) as largely caretakers (Judy Greer’s “Ant-Man” role as the mom or Pepper Potts in “Iron Man”) or sidekicks (Evageline Lily’s Hope van Dyne in “Ant-Man,” Black Widow in “The Avengers” and until she got her standalone TV series, Agent Carter). Women are to be loved and rescued from the untold threats attacking our galaxy, but as for women superheroes? Well, “Ant-Man” offers a weak explanation as to why they just can’t do that, before including a hasty mid-credit mea culpa signifying it’s our turn in the next however many sequels.
But the movie itself is not entirely dour. Scott Lang as Ant-Man is such an interesting misfit, a working class hero of the people who tries to return stolen money to victims of fraud from a corporate overlord. Too bad our justice system sees the Robin Hood good deed differently. That’s where Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) comes in and offers the unemployed felon with a heart of gold the redemption of a lifetime: corporate espionage to save the world from a deadly shrinking suited army.
— Ant-Man (@AntMan) July 9, 2015
As with most origin story movies, “Ant-Man” has a lot of ground to cover before the real action begins so that the audience is fully invested in the hero’s mission. But it takes quite some time before the movie warms up to action and picks up the pace. Paul Rudd lacks the rapid-fire energy of Marvel’s other smart mouth, “Iron Man” actor Robert Downey Jr. Unfortunately, Peyton Reed also lacks the quick wit of Edgar Wright’s direction, and while Reed manages to save the movie from its botched change of direction, Wright’s presence was sorely missed when his brand of brevity wasn’t around in the film’s bleaker moments.
And while co-star Michael Peña is able to toe the line between ethnic comic relief and skewing Hollywood stereotypes, Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne might was well have played Claire’s (Bryce Dallas Howard) sister from “Jurassic World.” She’s a cold coporate figure with a similar bowl haircut and daddy issues over Hank’s abandonment after the death of her mother. At one point, she’s the one who lashes out emotionally and it’s up to Lang to recruit her back into the mission. Is this why we can’t have female superheroes, Marvel?
— Ant-Man (@AntMan) July 15, 2015
The movie takes an intriguing anti-corporate detour that can only be best suggested as a product of our times. While Tony Stark has become a reformed billionaire weapons manufacturer, Rudd’s Ant-Man is made from skills as a burglar and a hand-me-down superhero suit. Nemesis Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is mad with power, murderous and will stop at nothing in his quest for success. There are throwaway lines about self-discovery in meditation and backroom deals, all describing the kind of toxic corporate figures that someone like Stark was meant to overcome.
Perhaps it also explains the casting choice of Michael Douglas. The man who once embodied corporate greed as Gordon Gekko back in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” now finds himself a character pushed out of his company he founded by the monster he mentored. It’s as if the damage of an unbridled drive for success has pushed ambitious men like Cross over the edge into supervillain territory.
Reed never dives deep into any of the issues, which is possibly to the film’s benefit. At the surface level, it’s about Paul Rudd going to work, saving his little girl and making good with his past. Reed keeps intact the visual gags (including one great Thomas the Tank Engine joke) and alternating the point-of-view of a shrunken Ant-Man against what everyone else can see for grand comedic effect in the last half hour of the movie. It might take another “Ant-Man” movie (you know it’s in the works) to see his character grow once the suit’s luster has worn down, but the framework is there to create an interesting superhero.
Now if only Marvel would give women the chance to be superheroes too.
"Ant-Man" opens in theaters this Friday.