What a difference one movie can make. When 2015 began Marvel Studios was flying high, hell, I opened my review of The Avengers: Age of Ultron by opining about how much the studio had killed it during 2014 with the one-two-punch of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. Unfortunately the aforementioned Age of Ultron was a pretty big letdown. The movie certainly made money and there were definitely Marvel loyalists who defended it, but the truth of the matter is that the movie was a mess. It was over-stuffed with tie-ins to other movies, its plot was shallow and under-cooked, and no amount of Joss Whedon snark could save it. It certainly wasn’t the first Marvel movie to disappoint but it was certainly the most high profile. It was supposed to be the big event movie that the rest of the Marvel films were leading up to and to have that fall as flat as it did was certainly a blow to Marvel’s aura of undefeatablity. It also came at a dangerous time because the next film that Marvel had to offer, Ant-Man, looked like a pretty tough sell and it had a troubled production history to boot. That movie’s here now, and frankly I don’t think it’s going to do much to get Marvel back on track.
The film is primarily about a guy named Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who has just been released from prison after serving out a sentence for burgling from a dirty corporate executive. Unable to find work and estranged from his ex-wife (Judy Greer) and daughter, Lang reluctantly joins a heist scheme with a couple of other ex-cons (Michael Peña and T.I.) to steal from a safe owned by an old man named Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), but is shocked to find that the only think in the safe is an old costume. Curious, he tries the costume on and suddenly finds that he’s been shrunk to the size of an ant. Freaked out, he tries to ditch the suit but soon finds that he’s actually been chosen by Pym and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) to dawn this shrinking suit and assist Pym in stopping a megalomaniacal business executive named Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) who has taken over Pym’s old company and is trying to develop his own shrinking suit and plans to sell it to Hydra.
Ever since Guardians of the Galaxy came out people have been going in masse to the internet to demand that their favorite obscure Marvel character be turned into a movie under the mantra “if they can sell a talking raccoon they can sell anything.” This belief is probably a bit shortsighted, it fails to acknowledge just how hard it was to make Guardians work with the public and somehow assumes that this is easily replicated. Ant-Man may well be proof of just how hard it is to try to make a movie out of a C-tier superhero. Originally the film was meant to be directed by Edgar Wright and I can kind of see how a movie about a character called “Ant-Man” might fit into Wright’s sort of humbly geeky sensibility, as an actual big budget Marvel film it just seems kind of strange. Ant-Man is, frankly, a lame superhero and it is frankly bizarre that we’ve gotten to the point where this seems like a viable subject to be making a $130 million dollar movie about.
What kind of lame-ass power is the ability to shrink? The movie certainly goes out of its way to come up with situations where that could be useful, but for the most part it would seem to be the opposite of what you’d want to do in a fight. Ants are easily killed pests that don’t exactly exude power, why would someone want to control these things and shrink down to their size? The film deals with this by giving the shrunken Ant-Man the same power in his punches that he has when he’s at his normal size, but this kind of goes against the basic laws of physics. Real ants are proportionally much stronger than humans, but there’s a reason that they can’t punch out a human, they just can’t build up the momentum and power to make a dent on something of our size. Even if they somehow could build up that kind of power, the fact that it’s being exerted on such a small target would mean that Ant-Man’s punches would be less like a blunt force trauma and more like a bullet penetrating its target (imagine the difference between being steped on by a flat shoe and being stepped on by a stiletto heeled shoe). The response to this would of course be “it’s a superhero, of course it’s impossible.” True, but that doesn’t change the fact that this particular set of impossible powers just looks silly.
Looking past that, the film really just doesn’t make much of a case for Ant-Man as a character either. Having a mentor figure in the form of Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym is sort of an interesting development, but otherwise this Scott Lang guy just seems kind of vanilla. That’s probably at least partially because he’s being played by Paul Rudd, who I’ve always considered to be an aggressively boring actor and working outside of the strictly comedic realm perhaps calls attention to how bland he is. Speaking of which, if you’re thinking that because this stars Paul Rudd, was developed by a comedic director, and then taken over by another comedic director, that it would be a particularly funny Marvel movie you’d be wrong. The movie certainly doesn’t take it self particularly seriously, but neither do any of the other Marvel movies and while there are a few more sight gags here it’s not any more funny than Guardians of the Galaxy or the first Thor or any of the Iron Man movies.
Now, I’ve been pretty negative up to this point but I don’t want to give the impression that this movie is unwatchable or anything. If nothing else, Marvel has a way of making sure that all their films are just “good enough” to not generate strongly negative opinions and this one isn’t any different. It’s not “bad” so much as it kind of seems like a waste. A waste of time, a waste of potential, a waste of goodwill. If you want to see a superhero movie, or even a Marvel movie, these days you have A LOT of options. The simple fact is that there is a finite amount of interest that the world has for movies about superheroes and given that I don’t think there’s much room for something as mediocre as Ant-Man in the culture. If Marvel truly needed to incorporate this character into their universe they probably would have been better served making him a side character in The Avengers like the Hulk or Hawkeye than making him the star of his own feature film and if they’re smart they’ll probably stick to doing that instead of trying to make an Ant-Man 2.
**1/2 out of Four