In an era when superhero films are dominating the box-office and the folks at both Marvel and DC Comics have planned all of their films for the next half of the decade and beyond, it seems easy to forget some had trouble getting off the ground. Development hell knows no bounds, as was the case for Ant-Man, directed by Peyton Reed. Marvel’s most recent entry into its Cinematic Universe has had its fair share of troubles. While those troubles show from time to time, among other issues, Ant-Man is another fun Marvel offering that accomplishes exactly what it should.
Development for the film began in 2006, and it looked fairly doomed for a number of years afterword. Edgar Wright, who up to that point had done Shaun of the Dead and was working on Hot Fuzz, was hired to direct and co-write with frequent collaborator Joe Cornish. For half of a decade, the only real developments on the project were new drafts from the duo, with pre-production finally getting under way in late 2013. Less than a year later, Wright left the project, and Peyton Reed was tagged to fill the hole he left. Additionally, while Wright and Cornish were still given writing credits, Adam McKay was brought in to contribute to the script with star Paul Rudd.
Needless to say, this project has been through a lot. Truth be told, in spite of Marvel’s successes, I was skeptical the film would be any good after Wright left. Watching the film, its turbulent past was fairly apparent, mostly during its opening act. Well before pre-production had even begun, Wright had built himself a reputation and established a style of filmmaking synonymous with his name. He and Cornish’s name may still be attached, but most of the film was missing that signature flavor I and other Wright fans might have been looking for.
The presence of other hands on the project was readily apparent with the differing styles of humor. Throughout most of the film, many of the intended punch lines did not come across as well as others. The humor that fell flat, which I presume was mostly coming from McKay and Rudd, is the exact same sort of dry, situational humor that you will find in just about every other superhero or action flick. Aside from the fact that it’s safe and, perhaps at this point, slightly unfunny, there’s nothing entirely wrong with it, I suppose.
Rudd and McKay’s comedic writing, however, just doesn’t hold a candle to the fleeting moments that keep Wright’s influence in tact. These scenes contain the typical quick editing and transitions that accentuate the jokes he and Cornish write, as can be seen in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and any of the Cornetto trilogy. I was laughing almost exclusively during these scenes, which only further saddens me knowing that Wright chose to leave because of creative differences and makes me wonder what could have been.
On top of all of that, the film is pretty slow going out of the gates. For most of the first act and couple of scenes throughout the rest of the film, the pacing drags a little more than it should. Because this film is establishing a new character who will have other stand-alone entries and appear in other Marvel movies, I understand that it needs some time to establish the character, his back-story, and why we should care about him, but Scott Lang’s particular origins should be simple enough to get through in a few scenes. Instead, the film perhaps takes a little too much time exploiting Paul Rudd’s identity as a funny man to a sometimes not so dazzling degree.
Fortunately, this is where the problems end, as the rest of the film was more than enjoyable. As the plot progresses and we see Rudd embrace the Ant-Man identity more and more, the film kicks into high gear and becomes exactly what it should: an unpretentious, fast-paced, action-fueled adventure. All of the action, and the special effects accompanying them, are unsurprisingly well done. What is refreshing, though, is the relatively smaller scale at which these scenes are created. At no time does each set-piece feel like your standard digital orgy, complementing the hero’s comparatively diminutive stature.
Along with some solid performances from Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, and especially Michael Douglas, Ant-Man is a fine superhero feature that’s gotten me fairly excited for what’s ahead, now that it has a few miles under its belt. Sure, Wright and Cornish may not be involved in what we see whenever Marvel decides to release the sequel, but I think exposure to a relatively obscure superhero will do the sequel some good. Besides, I’m ready to see Lilly really kick some ass.