Ant-Man suffers from a lack of conviction. It can’t seem to settle on a tone, doesn’t know how to use most of its characters, and is headed by an affable, but mostly detached and forgettable performance from Paul Rudd. While doing its best to please everyone, it falls short of pleasing almost anyone. For Marvel aficionados there’s a lot to like here. The filmmakers are starting to get less coy about the shared universe, and cross-referencing is rampant. We learn a little bit more about the shadowy past of S.H.I.E.L.D., get some fun asides and cameos and there’s an increasing sense that this is now a post-Avengers world, where miracles are commonplace enough to be treated with the same kind of detached irony as every other aspect of pop culture.”
In Ant-Man, genius arms magnate Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) comes to regret his creations, and vows to protect the future from his own legacy. So far, so Iron Man, but the wildcard here is Scott Lang. Instead of telling us the story of the powerful inventor Pym, this movie focuses on ex-convict Lang, a troubled-but-brilliant trope with the face and unstoppably charming personality of Paul Rudd. And so, instead of another Iron Man rehash we have Marvel’s first crime caper. Marvel’s 11, if you will.
There’s very little chemistry on screen at all. Michael Douglas is doing his best to bring those heavyweight acting chops to bear, but can’t seem to find his groove with on-screen daughter Evangeline Lilly. Likewise Lilly and Rudd’s pairing seems forced at best, like making them a couple was just some producer’s afterthought. Rudd and his posse are likeable, but that’s mainly down to Rudd’s relentless magnetism and Michael Peña’s adorable turn as a wannabe criminal.
The villain, Yellowjacket, is a little underdeveloped – which is a shame, because Corey Stoll is really on form here. He just doesn’t get enough good dialogue or a decent emotional arc to work with. He shares almost no screen time with his supposed nemesis, leading to a spectacular, if a little emotionless, final fight in which both parties are only tenuously invested. And the time he does get, mostly tete-a-tete with Michael Douglas, only really serves to give us more insight into Hank Pym.
The ant stuff is cute, and the miniaturisation in general is great, if a little uninspired. There’s just very little here that shows the filmmakers put any real thought into the action – beyond planning a heist movie where the protagonist can shrink himself to overcome most obstacles. The times where the action shines are the scenes that were clearly the ideas of former director Edgar Wright (replaced before shooting began by Peyton Reed). Despite being helmed by a different director, those sequences still bear hallmarks of Wright’s unmistakable style – which just serves to disappoint the audience by giving them a glimpse at the movie that might have been. Instead we get more tried and true Marvel spectacle, which at this point is starting to wear thin.
Going in to the cinema, Ant-Man – just like Iron Man and Thor ten years ago – was an unknown quantity. Most were almost immediately swept up and won over by Downey’s armoured hero, but this new film still has some ground to cover before you could count it amongst the same pantheon. That’s a shame, because Scott Lang has the makings of one of the most human and relatable Marvel movie characters so far. Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t looking forward to seeing Scott Lang and his immature antics alongside our favourite Marvel heroes sometime soon.