The Marvel universe is now so big, so far-reaching, so rapidly expanding, that it’s able to support franchises that would have seemed laughable a decade ago. Some of them still seem laughable today: Ant-Man is one of those.
It follows Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), an earnest ex-con who accidentally steals a suit that can shrink him to the size of an ant (it also allows him to talk to ants. It just does.). He’s confronted by a villain so minor I can’t actually remember his name; it’s all very small-scale (pun intended). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: a chance to re-examine the Marvel universe from a different perspective is not unwelcome. But what could have added a fresh new dimension to Disney’s superhero division feels more like padding in-between the big box-office antics of the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy.
It’s essentially a high-tech caper movie with a heist at its heart, giving a knowing wink to films like Mission: Impossible; one scene even has Lang dangling precariously from a wire attached to his waist. Rudd is likeable but slightly wasted in a role that casts him as the straight-man to Michael Peña and his petty-criminal pals. The supporting cast, including Michael Douglas as Ant-Man Snr and Evangeline Lilly as the bad-ass love interest, work well enough with what they are given, which isn’t a great deal.
But the biggest wasted opportunity is that much of the CGI-heavy action takes place in a photo-fit futuristic science lab when Ant-Man is so clearly at its best when it’s out in the real-world. There’s a simple pleasure in seeing every-day objects from a new perspective: the first time Scott shrinks to ant-size, for instance, is also the most memorable: he falls between the floorboards into a house party filled with deadly platform heels. It’s glorious. The second best is the climactic fight scene – surely the one used in the initial Ant-Man pitch to the Disney big-wigs – which involves a joyous scrap in a literal toy box where Thomas the Tank Engine is a deadly presence.
If this sounds like fun, that’s because it is. But these scenes are the exception rather than the rule: too often Ant-Man the movie feels even more underpowered than Ant-Man the superhero.
First published in City A.M.