Having been a casual comic-book fan as a kid, Marvel had to win me over at the theater. An inventor who devises a flying metal suit? Seemed pretty dumb, but Iron Man proved me wrong. A space god with a magic hammer? No thanks – until I saw Thor. Now we have a superhero who can shrink to the size of an insect and command an army of ants. Ant-Man? Well, Marvel can’t win them all.
This is a whimper of a Marvel movie – a flat exercise that never transcends the hokeyness of its central idea. The energy level is unusually low (that tends to happen when an action film opens with a corporate meeting), as is the deft characterization and sly humor for which Marvel is usually known.
With original director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) replaced by Peyton Reed (The Break-Up), it’s left to star Paul Rudd to perform CPR. He plays Scott Lang, a recently paroled cat burglar who is tapped by well-meaning scientist Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) to inherit the size-modifying suit Pym developed decades earlier. It seems a ruthless entrepreneur has developed a suit of his own, which he’s willing to sell to the highest bidder, so Pym and Lang set out to steal it in order to prevent devious factions from getting their hands on the technology.
The director who should have been fired from Ant-Man is not Edgar Wright, but Wes Anderson.
Rudd’s considerable, self-deprecating charm is working overtime here, to the point that it often seems as if he’s apologizing for the movie. (Stars of his kind need the right environment to thrive; here Rudd is called upon to salvage a dead-end one.) There are also a number of laborious Avengers references – including an uninspired Ant-Man encounter with Falcon – that is the worst sort of Marvel franchise care.
Mostly, though, Ant-Man disappoints because it fails to have enough fun with its one unique element: the sense of scale. Scott’s first experience in the suit, in which he suddenly finds himself at the bottom of a cavernous bathtub, quickly devolves into a lifeless, CGI thrill ride. Only the climactic battle – which takes place on a toy train set – makes clever use of the material. Given the potential for miniature sets and stop-motion animation, it struck me that the director who should have been fired from Ant-Man is not Edgar Wright, but Wes Anderson.
I’m not sure even he would have been able to redeem some of the movie’s cornier moments: a floating raft made of ants; a bad guy swatting bugs off his face while running from the room. Marvel has sold me on a lot of seemingly silly stuff, so I thought Ant-Man might have a chance. But I’m afraid I just couldn’t buy Paul Rudd riding a flying ant and yelling, “Woo-hoo!”