Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Ant-Man Squished by MCU House Style

Last Sunday I saw Ant-Man. It was dumb but pretty fun. That's all most people need to know really, but I have reputation to uphold. If you're reading this, you want gonzo over-analysis of Marvel's Cinematic Universe.

I think it is worth noting this is the latest I've waited to see any Marvel movie since opening. It's tempting to blame flagging interest, especially after the fatigue I expressed with Age of Ultron, and that's definitely part of it, but you can bet I will be watching Netflix's offerings straight out of the gate. I think the main issue is that I was skeptical of the hero (why does this silver age chestnut get a flick before literally anybody else slated for a title?) and I heard something that made me sad: Edgar Wright's script had been scrapped. Whedon said it was one of Marvel's best screenplays ever. Lo and behold, my first thought when the flick ended was "There is a better version of this movie somewhere locked up in a desk."

Again, it wasn't bad. I'd rank it above the Thor movies, which I would describe as "earnestly watchable." Paul Rudd was a peach as always. Evangeline Lilly was hurt by a lame role (and make-up that made her look much older than she is). Douglas gave a good delivery of a very straightforward role. Michael Peña is fast becoming one of my favorite character actors, even if he was typecast as a pseudo-stereotypical Mexican friend/hood. I don't know what David Croll was going for but he didn't hit the mark. As with Lilly's character, it's mostly the fault of the script, but his manic menace and discordant sycophantry made him the most forgettable villain in the MCU to date.

You don't really watch these things for the plot or performances though. Or I don't know. Maybe you're a masochist? That's cool. Whatever waxes your ride. The ridiculous action and great one-liners delivered, even if they were trailer'd to death.

There were flashes of a film that stuck together better. Something as fun as Guardians of the Galaxy. I can't put my finger on exactly where things went sideways, but I feel like they didn't commit to the screwball comedy angle as hard as they could. The ant powers were presented in a way that was remarkably straight forward with very few laughs, which seems like a huge missed opportunity. I know Wright would have committed to that humor. Paired with his hyper kinetic cinematography, saturated with whip-cuts and graphic embellishments...(yearning sigh). But no. The need for stylistic cohesion is finally starting to show it's teeth.

It's very weird to me that Marvel is getting more cautious after the success of stuff like Guardians and Daredevil. Their comics are also wildly, refreshingly different from each other. Look at Hawkeye vs Rocket Raccoon vs. Captain Marvel vs. Ms. Marvel vs. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl vs. any Spidey or Avenger's book. There was a place for Wright's vision in this pantheon.

My interest in the movies is starting to shift from intrinsic interest to this kind of morbid curiosity. I'm waiting for the moment when the gravy train goes off the rails. This wasn't the movie to do it, and Civil War, with the introduction of Sony's Spider-Man, will be a shot in the arm. But after that? Cummerbach's Doctor Strange is going to be tough. It is very difficult to make magic mainstream. Most magical fiction is the strict domain of book nerds and D&D dorks. Harry Potter managed to break through, but Game of Thrones and the Lord of the Rings (films) have marginalized it with more grounded stuff, like sword fighting, sex, and politics.

It hurts me to say this, but I would rather things go to hell with Doctor Strange than with Black Widow or Captain Marvel, because I can imagine some smarmy studio suit pounding his fist on the boardroom table, shouting "See? Nobody likes female comic book characters!" That guy can go fuck himself, preemptively. Black Panther would also be a very bad point for Marvel to drop the ball. Even worse than the lady-led films. At least nerd audiences can rally around Katniss Everdeen, whereas the only black superheroes we have are Anthony Mackie's Falcon, and Cheedle's War Machine who have both been relegated to sidekick status. (Falcon makes a fun cameo in Ant-Man tho).

When things inevitably go to hell, it won't be supernatural plots, or female, or black superheroes at fault. It will happen because they've made like twenty of these things, and people have moved on, or moved back to whatever was trendy before tights and capes movies.

No twist ending here. Fans of Marvel, heist movies, or Mr. Rudd should go check it out. Less dedicated fans can afford to give this one a pass with Civil War right around the corner.

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