The Marvel Cinematic Universe is not without its share of oddities. Perhaps most notably, the Guardians of the Galaxy occupy a Star Wars-esque universe and count a talking raccoon amongst their numbers. Thor is a Norse god who shambles onto Earth speaking old English and wearing shining armor. Both of these examples originate in distant (read: non-Earth) lands, which gives their inherent weirdness an immediately foreign anchor and allows us to suspend all notions of “real-world”. Sure, Iron Man and Captain America are the things of fantasy, but they have to obey at least some level of reality to keep us invested (or have Thor come along to justify the big bad). Ant-Man is Earthbound like the latter two examples, but is a concept so absolutely off of its rocker that it should feel more at place with Thor and Guardians. By making it fit the mold of the Avengers, Ant-Man doesn’t get a chance to let its freak flag fly, and instead feels like a clear stop-gap on the way to getting him in the Avengers.
Not to say that a movie about a super-science (read: magic) suit that lets Paul Rudd get really small isn’t without its touches. It gets nicely ludicrous in the final act (albeit mostly in scenes glimpsed in the trailer), but doesn’t have as much fun with the material as you would expect for the first sections. But it doesn’t go as cartoony as you would hope, although it thankfully doesn’t get overly dark either. The training montage, which should be a plethora of zaniness, is pretty straightforward, with some funny moments but no memorable or original uses of the concept. The secondary ability, where they can control ants through unrelated super science (once again, magic), never feels natural in the world they build, but does lead to at least a few laugh lines. As a minor quiblle, the physics are fairly inconsistent, which only stops being an issue in the last act when the joy of the mayhem finally becomes great enough to overlook it. Things that get shrunk (such as vehicles) seem to not weight their full amount (and are carried around like a toy car), but Ant-Man supposedly is still a regular-weight dude, which gives his little punches power. And the quantum stuff sprinkled throughout is pretty boilerplate “Uncertainty means abstract” stuff.
Maybe the biggest problem is that none of the characters really stand out, given that the Marvel universe is generally great at providing memorable heroes. Paul Rudd is always better either laid back or playing an unrepentant bag of dicks, and doesn’t quite work as a hero/electric engineer. Michael Douglas is introduced with some very impressive de-aging CGI as super-scientist Hank Pym, and is fine as an exposition machine but plays it fairly straight. His relationship with his daughter Hope is pivotal, but he and Evangeline Lilly don’t seem too invested. While Marvel loves its heroes, its non-Loki villains are near-uniformly uninteresting, and Ant-Man’s Yellowjacket is no exception (although far from the bottom of the barrel). The Yellowjacket villain is well-designed, but Corey Stoll doesn’t make the role memorable, even when they let the character do some seriously manic mad-scientist stuff, what with turning people into boogers. The arc of him being rejected by his mentor Pym doesn’t fully land since Pym isn’t the center of the movie; had it taken its own advice and let Hope Pym be the super-spy, maybe the familial tie would bring it all together. As it is, Lang and Pym’s side stories feel very disconnected, despite both ostensibly being about family. However, on the sidekick side, Michael Pena is fantastically bug-eyed and optimistic, and is perfect in every way, and his centrepiece lip-synced exposition montage is the best scene of the movie.
While not batshit enough to leave a visual mark, it is batshit enough that, when it does crossover with familiar Avengers, it feels a bit off. The compromise necessary to fit these two styles together may have prevented Ant-Man from having its own wacko voice, and it will be interesting to see how current outlier Guardians of the Galaxy manages to fit itself in. It also gets to feel a bit like a cheaper cousin, as when it does overlap, only one Avenger shows up (Anthony Mackie’s Falcon) with no backup (even from SHIELD) at what is ostensibly a major base. Ant-Man may end up bringing some nice flavour to Civil War and Avengers 3, and even the next Ant-Man movie may be able to get out from under the Avengers shadow and work its own magic. As an entry, Ant-Man is among the more skippable entries in the still-reliably entertaining MCU machine.
Dir. Peyton Reed
Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, and Michael Douglas
Rotten Tomatoes (80%)