After struggling through a long gestation period under first director Edgar Wright and then Peyton Reed (who are both capable of directing movies with humor and style), Marvel’s “Ant Man” is finally hitting theaters. While reviews are mixed, the movie is tracking to open well, but I wonder if it has the right stuff to keep pulling audiences during the peak of the intense summer season.
I have been favorably surprised by every one of the Kevin Feige Marvel movies except the wildly indulgent “Iron Man 2.’ (I never saw “Thor 2.”) That makes “Ant Man” my next-to-least favorite of the new Marvel movies. While “Guardians of the Galaxy” introduced us to a brand-new universe with fresh, hugely entertaining characters, and the world of the Avengers is populated by super-heroes we know and love, “Ant Man” is overly familiar at every turn:
The maverick inventor (broadly comedic Michael Douglas) who is shut out of his work and continues on his own? Check.
The strong daughter (glammed-up “Hobbit” star Evangeline Lily) eager to prove herself despite her over-protective father? Check.
The rival inventor (reliable Corey Stoll) who takes over and seeks to deploy the cool scientific breakthrough for nefarious ends? Check.
The divorced sad sack (bland Paul Rudd) with a chip on his shoulder who wants his kids to admire him and also get the girl? Check.
The goofy sidekick. Check. Thank God for always brilliant Michael Pena, one of the most underutilized stars in Hollywood. He can make anything work. He provides the laughs and steals the movie.
That leaves one thing that is engaging and fun about this Marvel comic-turned-movie: the suit that shrinks the wearer to insect size. When our tiny hero lands in a bathtub or communes with his ant army: that’s cool. I wanted more of that. To wake me up.
Here are some other early takes on the movie:
If you don’t have Thor’s hammer, Hulk’s bulk, Captain America’s resolve or Iron Man’s know-how, what’s an Avenger to do? The answer provided by “Ant-Man” is to go small, smaller than Black Widow’s fingernail, and exude a good sense of humor, which is precisely what floats this latest addition to the Marvel cinematic firmament. The timing might even be fortuitous as far as the fan base is concerned, what with the sense of overkill emanating from the most recent “Avengers” installment and a mirth quotient in the new outing that, by Marvel standards, ranks behind only that of the disarming “Guardians of the Galaxy” last summer. Although the story dynamics are fundamentally silly and the family stuff, with its parallel father-daughter melodrama, is elemental button-pushing, a good cast led by a winning Paul Rudd puts the nonsense over in reasonably disarming fashion.
Though we can mourn the more stylish and inventive stand-alone caper we might have gotten from director Edgar Wright (who left the project over creative differences and was replaced by Peyton Reed), this enjoyably off-the-cuff franchise starter takes a cue from its incredible shrinking protagonist (played by a game Paul Rudd) and emerges with a smaller-scaled, bigger-hearted origin story than most comicbook heroes are typically granted.
Still, it’s a Marvel movie, which means it runs on far too long. By the time the final Mission: Impossible-style heist arrives, my mind was drifting off to all of the unpredictably loopy and lunatic places original “Ant-Man” director Edgar Wright might have taken the film’s sluggish climax. Still, thanks to “Ant-Man”’s ace supporting cast (including Evangeline Lilly as Pym’s estranged daughter and the scene-stealing Michael Pena as Lang’s excitably dim partner in crime), Reed and Rudd’s film is proof that no matter how silly some ideas sound at first, good things often do come in small packages.
There are individual pieces of the movie that work wonderfully, whether it’s Douglas’ performance (he’s both dryly witty and convincingly bitter) or the execution of the heist on Pym’s house (complete with 1970s wacka-chicka guitar riffs). There’s also a satisfying bit of “Avengers” crossover material that works on its own and not just as franchise-building. Unfortunately, this is also the kind of movie where talented actors do some of their least notable work, whether it’s Stoll’s Snidely Whiplash routine, Peña overplaying the wackiness or Rudd having all of the charm and charisma stomped out of him.
Rudd’s affable wit makes him a perfect choice for the part. But his performance is uncharacteristically inhibited, as if he felt there was too much at stake to try something new. Even the jokes that do work leave some laughs on the table, and the impulse to play things safe proves emblematic of a film that shrinks in the face of a challenge.