Peyton Reed’s “Ant-Man,” the next film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, (MCU) is both a pleasant surprise and kind of frustrating. On the one hand, there are some clever aspects and we’re introduced to a new character that serves as a nice change of pace for MCU superheroes and for a franchise that’s beginning to get increasingly bland in terms of story and character. On the other hand, the movie is kind of a mess. With the script being penned by four people--Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and Paul Rudd—the film feels overcrowded. The final product is somewhat hindered by derivative plot points and superfluous characters. “Ant-Man” is entertaining but also exhausting.
What “Ant-Man” has going for it is the bizarre factor. Burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is recruited by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, who looks like he’s having a ball) to don a red leather suit that allows him to shrink down to the size of an ant. Along with that, he can control actual ants using his mind. No kidding. I won’t try to explain the science behind this, the movie doesn’t even explain it that well. Lang also gets his own carpenter ant that he can ride around on and we see him putting little metal helmets on about one hundred ants so he can command them in battle like a strange little General Patton.
A dude who controls ants? It’s just as absurd as it sounds but at least it’s something different. I’m not sure how useful an army of ants would be in a larger more serious superhero battle but for the purposes of this movie it’s ridiculous enough to work.
Rudd is his usual likable self. If you’ve seen any of his films before then you’ve seen his performance here, which works in “Ant-Man’s” favor. It’s as if his schlubby everyman character from “This is 40” was suddenly thrust into the world of Marvel superheroes. It’s an unusual combination that’s pulled off.
Our hero’s super small size also gives the film's action sequences a much-needed change in perspective. The underwhelming San Francisco setting is given extra dimension--a normal everyday bathtub becomes a threatening, awe-inspiring wave simulator. The first time Lang shrinks down (where he goes on a wild ride through the floor of his apartment, in between the mammoth stomping feet of people at a party and eventually out on to the chaotic streets ) is disorienting and exhilarating. It may be the first truly thrilling action sequence from an MCU movie I’ve seen in a long time because it's something fresh. Furthermore, the lighting fast way in which Lang switches back and forth between his ant size and normal size to fight baddies makes for a nice alternative to the (muscular) man on man “destruction everywhere” melee we’re usually exposed to.
The main problem with “Ant-Man” is the over plotting and unnecessary/one dimensional characters. The main villain Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is frustratingly one note. Within five minutes of meeting him, his menace is already turned up to eleven. There’s a redemption side plot between Lang and his young daughter and Pym and his grown up daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Both are poorly developed and because of the movie’s commitment to comedy, neither relationship resonates very deeply. Bobby Cannavale’s role as a cop could have been axed entirely without any affect and Michael Pena as Lang’s friend can be funny but even his dim witted sidekick shtick begins to wear thin. All of this makes for mostly pointless clutter in the narrative.
Additionally, the ending is a tedious drag, which is disapointing considering the rest of the movie moves along so quickly. Similar to “Man of Steel,” I’d say there are about four different climaxes—a heist, a fight, another fight, and another fight. Good stuff’s in each one but there’s simply too much. It needed to be condensed.
“Ant-Man” certainty surpassed my (low) expectations, turning out to be far more bizarre and entertaining than I though it would be. Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz”) was originally tapped to direct the film but left due to creative differences and you can definitely see traces of his influence in some of the gags, the frenzied editing and quick pacing. Reed (who directed “Yes Man”) clearly doesn’t have the same comedic panache as Wright but as a director brought on at the last minute he does a competent job. In the end, it’s the script that needs more fine-tuning and editing.