The Anticlimactic:Ant-Man

Every time I watch a new superhero movie, the more impressed I am at what Christopher Nolan achieved with his Dark Knight trilogy. The entire franchise is a meditation on how to best make a superhero movie. He drew influence not from comic books but from the countless myths of men that have sacrificed themselves for the good of others; like various awesome Greek mythological heroes. It is may be for that reason that he prevails at telling such stories where many have failed.

Matti Cinema brought two new foreign movies this past week. One was Ant-Man, the story of a petty thief who becomes a superhero whose superpower is to shrink and the other was Pixels, which is about aliens that have invaded earth in the form of classic arcade games. Both movies are pretty much out of their minds with plots that make no sense. But I did not have a hard time choosing the former because the other one starred Adam Sandler. That is all the reason anyone needs.

So, who is Ant-Man by the way? Like most of my Ethiopian counterparts, I am no comic book expert. What little I know of them is restricted to the number of comic book movies I have ever seen. In fact, I have never even read one. But, just as most people know about Odysseus and his legends without having actually read Homer’s Odyssey, I have acquired little knowledge of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) on websites and animated series.

I first found out two years ago, while following Edgar Wright’s future projects (as I like to do with some of my favorite filmmakers), that Ant Man’s superpower was to shrink and wondered how that could be an advantage instead of an impediment. Even after considering the fact that he becomes stronger when he shrinks to the size of an insect, I thought the hardship of getting from one place to another would make his superpower inconsequential. But knowing Wright and the kind of outlandish and hilarious movies for which he is known, it was obvious that he would be attracted to the project.

Like every other superhero movie, there is a human being inside the suit and his name is Scott Lang. He recently just got out of prison for committing a Robin Hood like burglary and is looking to change his life and become a good role model for his only child. But he soon learns that life does not afford him too many options, and reverts to his old habits. Using information he gets from one of his goodhearted but criminal friends, he burgles (not robs, which indicates violence) the house of Hank Pym, a scientist that has created a shrinking suit (not only that, but in the comic book version, is also responsible for creating the sentient AI Ultron). Lang steals the suit without really knowing what it is, and subsequently, gets himself tangled in Pym’s world.

It seems that Pym needs him to carry out a heist that could save humanity as we know it. Pym’s once upon a time protégé, Darren Cross, is finally getting closer to being able to create his own shrinking suit and selling it to Hydra (by now, after all those Marvel  superhero movies, it should be obvious that Hydra is not a humanitarian organisation even though that fact is not directly pointed out in this movie).  Thus, Pym, Lang and Pym’s very attractive and estranged daughter have to team up and together steal the technology.

One smart thing the film’s studio did was hire the very lovable Paul Rudd to play the part of Lang. He fits the part like a hand in a glove, exhibiting the right amount of humour that is appropriate for a superhero whose defining superpower is not to fly or wield a mighty hammer but to shrink in size.  Meanwhile, Michael Douglas (son of legendary actor Kirk Douglas, who, by the way, is still alive at age 98), plays Pym in a manner that deserves neither acclaim nor scorn. But Evangeline Lilly yields a surprisingly poignant and complex performance as Pym’s conflicted and envious daughter.

The film is directed by comedy director Peyton Reed (The Break Up, Yes Man) who does a great job of never deviating from the point that Ant-Man belongs in a bigger universe, one that ties the movie with the mammoth Avengers franchise. Reed has made sure not to make Ant-Man standout or be unique or too engaging in its own way. This was not what was intended from the beginning though; as far back as 2003, the director assigned to the movie was Wright. His movies – The Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – are exceptional in their editing, humor, pace and feel. He was fired from the project in 2013, shortly after post production of the movie, on grounds of creative differences.

I can guess what the term “creative difference” means; his vision was perhaps too artistic and would not fit into the market product. It does not matter how good his script was, it was expendable as long as it did not scream The Avengers; which is sad because, with Wright at the helm, Ant-Man could have been incredible. It would have embraced the telephoto world of Ant-Man that Reed usually shies away from. There is a scene in the movie (one I believe is a survivor of Wright’s exorcised script), where Lang shrinks in size for the first time and we see things from his perspective, a technique that is never repeated throughout the movie and a glimpse of how the movie would have looked had Wright directed it. It would have given The Dark Knight a run for its money.

And this is why I am astonished at Nolan all the more. He is not just a great storyteller but he made an entire studio bend to his demands. The more I see The Dark Knight the more unorthodox it becomes. In which superhero movie do we see the hero’s love interest die in the middle of the movie? Furthermore, Nolan started his trilogy not by having his hero gain his powers (or outfit and fighting skills), before his responsibility but the other way around. Ant-Man is movie-of-the-week at best (and maybe not even that since Trainwreck was released that very same week); it plays by the rules and never risks anything. It is nowhere a great movie because great superhero movies demand not only a great storyteller like Wright but a bold one too, like Nolan. Sadly, Reed was neither.

By Christian Tesfaye
Special To Fortune

Published on Aug 17,2015 [ Vol 16 ,No 798]



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