Marvel has started the summer in typical superhero fashion, introducing the latest installment in its rapidly expanding universe. Ant-Man, based on the 1960s character who exists in the same world as the Avengers, sees the film studio trying more of a minimalist, standalone story on for size, with mixed results. While you won’t quite need a magnifying glass to catch all of the movie’s good points, it is riddled with narrative misfires and, overall, leaves something to be desired. At the very least, it calls into dispute the old adage that “less is more.”
Genre-wise, Ant-Man is equal parts action, heist, and comedy, and is refreshingly free of decimated cities and apocalyptic threats. True to its name, it’s a smaller and more character-driven affair, and the most family-oriented that Marvel has done so far, to boot. The story features main character Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who agrees to do one last heist to redeem himself for his past crimes and to earn the right to reunite with his estranged daughter. That heist involves taking a dangerous “Yellowjacket” combat suit from corporate enemy Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) before its ability to shrink a human being can be used to fundamentally shift the paradigm for military combat and the world – for the worse, according to Lang’s employer, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas).
Pym, the original Ant-Man, is trying to make his own amends, after Cross shut him out of his own company and stole the very technology he invented to build the Yellowjacket suit. With the help of his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Pym trains Lang to become the new Ant-Man and use the shrinking technology to stop Cross. What follows is a humor-tinged caper involving CGI-achieved fights on toy trainsets, on the tops of gun barrels, and other places where only ant-sized characters can go. These action pieces are innovative, but – I think – fall short of their full potential. It’s unfortunate that the imagination here was the smallest facet of all, because so much more could have been done with this concept. And while our hero riding on the back of a flying ant, leading an army of insects into battle, is riotously cool, it only scratches the surface, cinematographically speaking, of what could have been achieved.
The narrative weaknesses don’t help matters. Because Ant-Man‘s plot, which grapples with corporate subterfuge and weapons/technology being used for the wrong purposes, while sociopolitically poignant, positively reeks of repetition. In fact, we’ve seen this exact same story outline before, in the first Iron Man film, and sadly, the lackluster supporting cast of this film does not match up with that of its predecessor. Aside from Rudd and Douglas, the other actors aren’t working much chemistry or doing much to tether the character-driven elements (which the film so desperately wants to pull off) to the action.
The humor is hit or miss – the latter more often than the former. To its credit, Ant-Man does its utmost to be as light-hearted as this sort of story should be, and as self-deprecating as it ought to be in consideration for the audience’s waning suspension of disbelief. But more often than not, its offbeat jokes land with all the efficacy of a shredded paper airplane.
Ultimately, the movie fits the definiton of a popcorn flick, taking viewers on an amusing ride and wrapping everything up in, more or less, a neat little bow at the end. And of course, it’s a Marvel film, so there are little tidbits here or there for us comic fans, including a cameo by Avengers character the Falcon and a mid-credits scene that’s supposed to get us all geared up for the sequel. Furthermore, a post-credits scene teases the upcoming Captain America: Civil War that we’ll see next year. But those offerings are arguably more exciting than the rest of the film. Fun but forgettable, Ant-Man makes us feel like we’re just watching filler until Marvel brings out the big guns next summer.
Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll
Photo: Marvel official site