Monday, July 22, 2024

Marvel’s Ant-Man Has a Serious Identity Problem

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Coen Brothers’ movies are often divided into two categories: Coen Brothers, and Coen Brothers Lite. Coen Brothers Lite includes films like O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Burn After Reading. Coen Lite is still enjoyable; it’s not Oscar bait and never will be, but it generally has stories and characters and themes and fun.

I mention this because I consider Ant-Man (along with Guardians of the Galaxy, a film I really liked) to be “Marvel Lite.” It’s clearly meant to be more of a comedy than, say, Captain America or even the Iron Man flicks.

The difference between “Coen Lite” and “Marvel Lite” (in this case, anyway) is that apparently Marvel Lite is mass-produced drivel that assumes its audience is so enslaved by the Marvel brand that it will swallow anything fed to it, like a parent making airplane noises to get stewed prunes into a baby’s mouth.

I’m not here to compare Marvel movies to Coen brothers’ movies: they’re not comparable, and not meant to be. I’m using the metaphor to show that you can make silly, funny, cotton-candy style movies (have you seen Burn After Reading, or The Men Who Stare at Goats?) and still be smart about it. Genuinely funny. Not insulting.

Ant-Man is none of those things. Yes, Paul Rudd is charming, but that’s because Paul Rudd can’t help but be charming, and honestly he would charm us (or at least me) if it were just two hours of him trying to tie his shoes.

But a charming, charismatic leading man doesn’t save this film—though maybe Marvel was hoping it would.

Did I mention it was insulting? Because that’s important here. It’s insulting that Marvel assumes it can make anything it wants and everyone will love it. It’s insulting that Rotten Tomatoes scores this movie at 80%. It’s insulting that once again the white male protagonist saves the day while the far more capable female character is left in the dust as a love interest. It’s perhaps most insulting that the latter happens “for her protection:” because her mother died on a mission and her father doesn’t want to lose her the same way.

I’m so sick of men dictating to women “for their protection.”

Hope van Dyne (played rather coldly by Evangeline Lilly) is the daughter of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the inventor of the Ant-Man technology and the suit’s original wearer. She’s also a scientist who can communicate with ants, and she’s a martial artist.

Scott has to learn both of these skills before he can be Ant-Man, and guess who teaches him?



The movie expects the audience to not only swallow the sexism, but to be perfectly fine with the “but it’s because her daddy looooooves her!!” explanation. Hope accepts it and stops asking to wear the suit; and, maybe worst of all, it’s Scott who first explains it to her.

Honestly the whole thing gave me a rage headache, and I know Marvel is (maybe) trying to undo some of the damage with the sequel, Ant-Man and Wasp, but it feels too little too late for me.

Especially since sexism isn’t the movie’s only problem.

Michael Peña, an actor I enjoy immensely, does his best to improve a character that’s little more than a Latino sidekick stereotype, but there’s only so much he can do.

The “straight-arrow current boyfriend disapproves of the loose-cannon ex” plot needed to die about 10 years ago.

The main villain seemed in some ways like an afterthought, which is odd for a superhero movie.

The bottom line is Ant-Man tries too hard. It has nine writing credits, though three of them are for the original comic books, and I guess they don’t really count. So six writing credits. That’s a lot of cooks to spoil the stewed prunes. The movie feels like a cobbled-together mess that doesn’t know what it is: part crime caper, part origin story, part…family drama? Romantic comedy? Buddy film? Love letter to ants?

I don’t know what it is, either, and while generally I have no problem with genre-defying films (see O Brother, Where Art Thou?, above), they only work when they’re done well, which this clearly was not. What’s worse is, in a market glutted with super hero movies, and a slate of films announced through 2020, we as the audience are expected to be perfectly fine with subpar movies like Ant-Man and its (no doubt) many sequels.

Returning to the Coen brothers for a moment, I feel like Marvel could take some advice from Marge Gunderson, Frances McDormand’s character from Fargo. “There’s more to life than money, ya know,” she tells a kidnapper/murderer near the end of the film. “Don’t you know that?”

Obviously releasing bad movies isn’t the same as causing the deaths of several people, but still. There’s more to life than money, Marvel. Take a breath, and stop assuming your audience doesn’t care what it’s seeing as long as it’s seeing something with your logo in front of it.

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