Stephen David Miller

Startup cofounder, AI researcher, podcaster, person, etc.

Review: Ant Man

No child dreams of becoming Ant Man, but plenty want to direct. So when internet chatter first erupted in 2012, the buzz had less to do with any superhero than the underdog at the helm: Edgar Wright, whose credentials as a genre geek (Cornetto Trilogy) and hyper-real stylist (Scott Pilgrim) fit uncannily with the Marvel aesthetic. Fans were excited, sure, but mostly in the vicarious sense. When that meta-hero was ousted, everyone rooting for him — myself included — felt their excitement shrink faster than [OBVIOUS ANALOGY].

When you’re hauling $130M of cargo and the captain’s suddenly been ejected, it’s not the time to bust out fancy aerobatics. You keep your head down, and aim for a safe landing. That’s the only explanation I can think of for why the Ant Man Marvel salvaged manages to be so impressive while leaving such a tiny mental footprint. Shooting somewhere between the horizon and the moon, it’s an inconsequential but confident bullseye.

I had plenty of fun with this movie, mostly because it was having so much fun at its own expense. Self-deprecation is Ant Man’s real superpower, and Marvel has never seemed so in on the joke. Like that final rap battle in 8 Mile, self-criticism is levied before you can get a word in edgewise. Think the Avengers’ stakes are getting absurdly high? Sidelined female characters, perfunctory romance? You’re in good company: Paul Rudd thinks so too, and it’ll be way funnier when he says it first. Neither universe-protecting demigod nor war-torn antihero, he’s just a regular guy in an ant suit. And someone else’s suit at that.

But while Rudd is typically great and Michael Douglas makes for a surprisingly game foil, it’s Michael Peña’s scene-stealing role that left the biggest impression. Which is telling, because he’s the furthest removed from the action. By contrast, the monster-of-the-week villain and corresponding set pieces were half-gone the moment I’d left the theatre. As a “superhero movie” the beats barely stuck while they were going on, let alone enough to make me crave a sequel. Which is fine! If the only alternative is fatigued grandeur a la Age of Ultron, I’m more than happy for snappy fluff. It’s probably truer to the comic book spirit. But calibrate your expectations accordingly: for a planet in the Marvel Universe, it’s an awfully small, small world.

See my review on Letterboxd