Ant-Man_posterSadly, I haven’t had much time for blogging lately (at least about writing); but I can’t pass up a review of Ant-Man. Particularly since so many of you enjoy me writing about the Marvel franchise.

I went to see Ant-Man last night at the Alamo Drafthouse, because who can pass up the chance to watch superhero films while eating fried mozzarella and hot wings, washed down with an alcoholic root beer? All movie theaters should be restaurant theaters.

Anyway, it was a good experience. The service was prompt and good as always, and the movie was decent. Yes, decent; not incredible, not outstanding. Decent.

As I said before, I expected this movie to disappoint me by comparison to the others. On a scale of Marvel films, this is the third-worst, beating out Thor: The Dark World and Incredible Hulk, though Dark World had better visuals. That may sound disappointing, but remember what I said before: a bad Marvel movie is, so far, better than an average movie.

Spoiler Warning

Ant-Man is an origin movie, which is half of the issue; we have to train up a nobody to use an advanced super-suit and ant-control in a series of montages while giving backstory into both his motivations and those of his allies and still have time for a caper plot, all in just under two hours. This movie would have benefited from at least another half-hour to help smooth things out.

The other half of the issue is that it’s a caper plot. Now, don’t get me wrong; I think it’s a great move to do something a little different, and the superhero tropes play in very well with the caper tropes in this story. The problem is combining an origin story with a caper creates an over-rushed feeling.

An origin story is about discovering new ideas, abilities, and techniques, creating a new normal and giving a sense of purpose. It typically involves a lot of false starts, mistakes, and improvisation. Meanwhile, a caper plot depends on competency, timing, and skill, combining elements of the thriller and the mystery by showing everything point by point while still keeping a final reveal (the heroic reversal) from both the villain and the audience.

Those two don’t mesh well. Ant-Man tackles it by having a training montage that leaves you wondering if the suit is simpler than they make it out to be, since Scott Lang goes from bumbling to expert in a matter of days. The reason for why Lang has to be the one in the suit, and not either Pym or Hope, is very forced as well.

A lot of my dissatisfaction with the movie comes from the ending as well, as once it became apparent that it was a caper (no, I stayed away from details on the movie until after I saw it, so I didn’t know that going in) I began expecting the heroic reversal. It didn’t come. It transitioned right back into a superhero climax.

The movie is fun. The fight among the toys is a lot better than the trailer promised, which is something to note. The main thing is just that the movie can’t make up its mind as to whether it’s an origin or a caper.

How would I change the movie? I may do a blog post on that topic. [TIME-TRAVELING EDIT: Here you go.]

Again (referencing this blog post once more), I’m going to treat Ant-Man as the first movie of Phase Three. Supposedly, Captain America: Civil War will bring a clear beginning to the new chapter, but all the arguments given by Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige for why Ant-Man closes Phase Two seem better for why it opens Phase Three. Take a look at this quote, lifted from here.

It’s not [an after thought]. The truth is the phases mean a lot to me and some people but…Civil War is the start of Phase Three. It just is. And Ant-Man is a different kind of culmination of Phase Two because it very much is in the MCU.

You meet new characters and you learn about Hank Pym and his lineage with the MCU over the years. But at the same time, it also picks up the thread of Age of Ultron in terms of heroes – major heroes, Avengers – coming from unexpected places. Whether it’s prison in the case of Scott Lang or being a very disgruntled Sokovian Twins as Wanda and Pietro are in Age of Ultron. And in that way it connects a lot.

Also, Hank Pym’s attitude towards Avengers, towards S.H.I.E.L.D, and kind of the cinematic universe in general, is much more informed after the events of Age of Ultron, and in a certain way, before the events of Civil War.

In other words, Ant-Man is a perfect ending because it’s a great beginning, and Civil War is the real beginning because we say so. Okay. Well, this is the same guy, it seems, that thinks that movie audiences never watch TV, and vice versa, so I have a few suggestions on the value of his logic.

Also, until very recently, this was officially the first movie of Phase Three. That gets underscored by the film itself. It’s not just the cinematic style that’s different; the world around the characters seems changed. Superheroes aren’t revered; a newspaper headline asks about who to blame for the events of Age of Ultron; and the Avengers’ new facility is a secret that’s slowly falling apart (as some people know it and others don’t).

The kicker is that we’re seeing this through the eyes of new characters. Everything in Phase One was building to Avengers. Everything in Phase Two was building to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Phase two wasn’t building to Ant-Man. You don’t introduce new characters as the sole protagonists of your climax. This is a Phase Three movie, and I think it would fit expectations better if that was what people knew going in. I’d have had marketing run with stuff like “Opening the biggest new chapter in the biggest movie franchise with the smallest hero ever.”

Besides, with that after-the-credits scene, it’s very clear where this is going. In fact, Declan Finn over at A Pius Man already called it months ago.

So, bottom line: it’s a good movie, even if it slipped several notches compared to other Marvel films. It’s worth seeing, though it’s not must-see-in-theaters material.

Just remember that a bad Marvel film is still a good film. The common thread I’m seeing in the bad reviews so far seems to be that people forget that a review judges a movie against the genre, not the series. Don’t make the same mistake. If you’re a big fan of Marvel films, this is probably worth the price of a ticket. If you merely like them, wait for DVD. If you’re not a fan . . . wait, why are you reading this review if you’re not a fan?

I don’t tend to give star-based ratings on this blog, but I’ll make an exception. When I review books on Amazon, Audible, and other sites, I put them this way: 1 star means I couldn’t finish it, 2 means I didn’t enjoy it, 3 is average, 4 is exceptional and I start recommending, and 5 is something I want to read or watch again and again.

For a Marvel film, Ant-Man is a 2. For a film in general, weighed against the science fiction genre as a whole, I’m calling it a 3.8. Take that as you may.