Since 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has continually exceeded expectations with the product they’ve put out. This was true no more so than in 2008 with the first entry Iron Man, which turned a superhero considered on the B list to A level material. The casting of one Robert Downey Jr. certainly helped. It held true in 2014 when Guardians of the Galaxy, considered the studio’s biggest risk to date, was a comedically charged thrill ride that turned Chris Pratt into a superstar.
We arrive at Ant-Man, directed by Peyton Reed, with some of the same skepticism that surrounded those pictures. This time expectations are not necessarily exceeded. They are merely mostly met and the choice to cast the supremely talented Paul Rudd in the title role doesn’t pay off as much as hoped for.
Rudd is Scott Lang, an expert burglar and safecracker who just got out of prison for some Robin Hood like corporate thefts. His felon status can’t get him a steady job and this estranges him from his beloved little daughter. He reluctantly accepts a theft job “one last time” but all it yields is a strange looking outfit that he believes to be motorcycle gear. It turns out the suit belongs to former S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who purposely had him lift it. Scott learns the suit is that of the Ant-Man and it has the ability to shrink him to a tiny size. This breakthrough technology was discovered by Pym, who has kept it secret for many years because of the potential danger it could wreak. Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) works at Pym’s old company along with his former colleague Cross (Corey Stoll). It’s Cross who wishes to use the scientific breakthrough for nefarious warfare purposes and Pym enlists Scott (someone expendable with nothing to lose) to make sure he can’t.
This entails the Ant-Man to learn how to be the Ant-Man and that means getting to work with the actual insects who become his team. It means a number of super cool visual effects as he shrinks to minuscule size. A bathtub being drawn is The Perfect Storm to our hero. And as we also see in the MCU now, they are references to what’s occurred in other films and we get some Avengers exposure, however limited.
As with Iron Man and Thor and Captain America and the Guardians of Marvel’s past, this is the obligatory and needed origin story. The doubts that were expressed upon the film’s announcement centered on whether Ant-Man was a strong enough character to base a movie and hoped for franchise on. I can say the jury, for me, is still deliberating.
Ant-Man is not a straight out comedy yet dabbles into that genre in the same manner Guardians did. The latter did it better. Rudd is a gifted comedic and dramatic performer as we’ve seen time and again yet he never quite makes the instantly gratifying impression that Downey’s Tony Stark or Pratt’s Star Lord did. Douglas seems to be the one actually having the most fun. Lilly isn’t given a whole lot to work with other than her daddy/daughter issues with Pym. Stoll is a serviceable villain at best. Scott’s team of thieving buddies that include Michael Pena and T.I. are given a couple humorous bits.
The whole affair seems to pick up steam in the third act, especially with a delightfully amusing climactic train sequence. Ant-Man is not on the grand scale of what we typically expect from the MCU and that’s ok. Often, however, it can mean its thrills feel minimized. One also wonders how interesting this material may have been had its original director, the highly creative Edgar Wright, not dropped out due to reported creative differences. Having said that, here’s to hoping this sometimes workmanlike production will improve with its sequel like the Captain America and Thor franchises did.
**1/2 (out of four)