AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON has about the same problem that ANT-MAN has in this critic's opinion. To a major extent, too much of this film feels like Marvel is just checking off entries to a list and not allowing this film to breathe on its own. Granted, for ANT-MAN it’s more of an annoyance than anything else. But while I do appreciate and admire the scope of what Marvel is still doing, which frankly hasn’t been attempted at this extent before, it can lead to a frustrating film-going experience for some when you can sense how much the movie wants to break away and do its own thing.
As Marvel expands and builds upon its Cinematic Universe, we get to explore interesting corners that we haven’t seen before now. It’s here that we meet Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), discoverer of the Pym Particle, which allows molecules to drastically reduce the space between atoms while still keeping its intrinsic form and their kinetic energy and motion. In the wrong hands, it could be a potentially dangerous weapon, and when Howard Stark (John Slattery stepping in for Dominic Cooper) tries to obtain it by taking over Pym’s company, Pym rebels and takes his ball home. Michael Douglas fits well within the Marvel Universe in the same way as Robert Redford in “The Winter Soldier,” although it’s harder to adjust to him being anything other than Michael Douglas (It’s a very different take on Hank Pym than the comics, that’s for sure.)
From here on, enter Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) aka “I don’t rob. I burgle.” Scott’s got all the skills and more importantly, the compassion that Pym is looking for, but he (like most soon-to-be heroes) is struggling with trying to stay on the straight and narrow, in this case for his daughter’s sake. But you see Hank needs Scott, and with Scott’s help and the help of Hank Pym’s mostly estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Pym trains Scott how to use the Ant-Man suit’s shrinking ability. Tagging along are Lang’s friends Luis (a scene stealing Michael Peña), Kurt (David Dastmalchian), and Dave (Tip “T.I.” Harris), and with their help, Lang must pull off the ultimate heist. The scale of ANT-MAN may be smaller than other entries in the MCU, but the stakes are just as high once the ball gets rolling and Darren Cross and his yellow jacket technology comes into play.
Now there are a lot of cool moments in ANT-MAN, and the humor makes everything work. So where does the trouble come into paradise? Well to be honest, Marvel needs to get away from this template that they’ve shown in their films up to this point. There’s always a major MacGuffin that the heroes need to retrieve, or keep away from the bad guys, or if not that, both. That may be true for the entire superhero genre at this point, and while ANT-MAN is busy establishing their character and placing their piece into the much larger puzzle that is the MCU, the film is at its best when it actually breaks free of that much larger pattern. Perhaps that may be due to the fact that ANT-MAN has many cooks stirring the pot, and that the disagreements of all these cooks were aired out in a very - let's just say - “public” way. But I guess all the Marvel films have that to some degree. You see, Marvel isn’t fighting with the tone and the skillset of their directors they’ve hired. Instead, the directors are fighting with the overall big picture/end game/INIFINITY WARS that Marvel has painted for itself, and these filmmakers are struggling in trying to establish their own rhythm and voice amongst all the world building. Marvel seems to want the entire luster of the directors they hire, but in doing so muzzles those aspects that make them both unique and original.
Whatever movie original director Edgar Wright was going to make, that isn’t the movie that has been released, and I’m not reviewing the film that could have been. And frankly, I think comparisons fan boys are giving are unfair to Peyton Reed, who in my opinion is a wonderful director with an excellent track record, both in films and television. ANT-MAN has some delightfully intentional weird moments that work just perfectly, but I couldn’t shake the idea that Reed would have been perfectly willing to go even further with his ideas had Marvel not micromanaged the film as much as they did. I’m not going to sit and type here saying that I’m privy to all the machinations behind the scenes because I’m not. But what I do know is that there are times that ANT-MAN wants to break free of the Marvel mold so fucking badly, and you can just see the truly crazy, original, and innovative film trying to escape. I personally think Reed is a big part of that and I very much want to see a Marvel film with Peyton Reed at the helm, unencumbered from all the outside politics, who is able to create his own. He deserves that, in my opinion, after coming to the rescue of Marvel and saving their film.
Now this may read as more negative than intended. The majority of ANT-MAN is a funny rumpus time, and both the post-credit sequences put well-earned exclamation points on the affair, especially the second one, which wraps up a dangling MCU storyline while firmly placing ANT-MAN into the rest of the franchise. ANT-MAN has a ton of personality and charisma. Marvel has the rest of these Phase Three films plotted out meticulously and thoroughly. Now it’s their job to figure out how to make it feel like it’s not all on rails.