Ant-Man is the kind of superhero movie that reminds you why nobody’s favorite film in a franchise is the first one. Far from a bad picture, Ant-Man has so much baggage, table-setting and backgrounds to establish that the eventual fun comes as relief rather than a crescendo.
The movie stars Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, a man just getting out of jail for burglary. Despite the criminal record, Scott is rather meager in terms of nastiness. Yes, he committed crimes, but they were always non-violent and against white-collar crooks themselves. Struggling to find steady work and desperate to make ends meet in order to get back into his daughter’s life, Scott accepts a job of the illegal variety once more. However, this gig turns out a lot weirder than planned. What Scott expects to be a simple theft from an elderly man leads him to a path of super-suits, fisticuffs and conspiracies. Also, Scott dukes it out with an Avenger.
With a complicated production history, complete with a last-minute director change from Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Head, Hot Fuzz) to Peyton Reed (Bring It On, Yes Man) and late script rewrites, Ant-Man is a peculiar product. This isn’t due to the army of talking ants that literally have oodles of time on screen. Ant-Man is rhythmically odd, never quite setting into a groove. To an extant, it recalls the often derided Thor: The Dark World, with its well executed humor interrupting the lackluster drama and bland bad-guy.
The characters lack interesting shading, standing as silhouettes of an idea. Rudd’s Scott is the guy getting his second chance who wants to see his kid. Michael Douglas is the sad scientist who lost his wife and messed things up with his daughter. Evangeline Lily is said daughter who, um, can punch well? Well acted by all of the above, the arcs each goes through are predictable to the point that you’ll find yourself mentally checking off dialogue beats. The fact that Corey Stoll’s villainous inventor is a complete dud only shines a brighter light on the ho-hum nature of it all.
Nevertheless, there is pop fun to be had. Stoll’s evil is uninteresting, but he does play a major part in the final action set-piece. Ant-Man’s ability to dramatically shrink and grow back-to-normal size in a heartbeat allows for creative dueling, with our hero’s fight on a helicopter and eventually in a suitcase, complete with blaring iPhone, as a real pleasure. There are also a string of amusingly staged tales told by Michael Pena, who plays Rudd’s best friend, that display the actor’s motor-mouth sweetness.
Yet, there is something about the pacing that keeps it all at a distance. There is a ticking-clock structure to the narrative, with Rudd forced to learn the full swathe of Ant-y abilities at his disposal in a matter of days. Between the numerous montages, characters storming out of the room and cuts to Stoll trying to recreate the same technology Ant-Man uses, that pressure diffuses, undercutting momentum at every turn. While it’s certainly nice to have a superhero film less bombastic than much of what Disney’s Marvel has put out lately, Ant-Man is still at best an occasionally pleasant experience.