Ant-Man the movie is not nearly as fascinating as its curious inception and road to the big screen. Coming at the very end of Marvel Studios' second phase of films, it's neither a sequel nor a team-up film as it tries its best to carve out a unique place in the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film benefits greatly for being different and star Paul Rudd—he shares a co-writing credit with Adam McKay, Joe Cornish, and original director Edgar Wright)—who plays off his very un-superheroic character, reformed cat burglar Scott Lang.
It's ironic how quickly Marvel became about being big after The Avengers. By going lighter and "smaller" here, Ant-Man is rather refreshing for its lower stakes, but by the third act, the dangers and risks blow up in predictable fashion. At its core, Ant-Man replicates the elements of a buddy comedy with the heist movie formula while adding some much needed heart. Bring It On director Peyton Reed (who took over once Wright departed) does a suitable job juggling the film's competing elements but never makes his own mark on the very Marvel-y movie.
The film really apes the Iron Man formula with a lovable but morally questionable protagonist preventing an unscrupulous industrialist from unleashing a dangerous military weapon with all the adequate hints and nods to S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra. Corey Stoll (in the Jeff Bridges/Iron Monger type role) is the generic villain, Yellowjacket, just as Michael Douglas portrays the original titular hero, Dr. Hank Pym, looking to protect his shrinking technology from being militarized and mentoring Lang. Evangeline Lilly plays Pym's estranged but very bad ass daughter who constantly asserts her own skills and qualifications over Lang for inheriting the Ant-Man moniker (and she has a point).
With the talented cast, it's really Michael Peña who absolutely steals the film. His really out there, jokey, but altogether charming sensibilities make some of the more expositional scenes absolutely liven up with energy along with cohorts, rapper T.I. and David Dastmalchian. It's all enough to propel to relatively dumb plot forward to the inevitable heist that makes no sense, least of all the rather wondrous explanation of Pym's technology to control actual ants to fight crime—they literally do all the heavy lifting. They get around these flaws by mostly throwing in constant McKay style, self-aware jokes and gags both mocking and highlighting the shrinking technology.
Marvel's latest is full of fun but ultimately adheres to their generic, universal tendencies. We see glimpses of weirdness and offbeat elements (in the vein of Guardians of the Galaxy), but Reed's more workmanlike qualities as a filmmaker prevent Rudd and company from really exploring the greater absurdities of the superhero genre. Ultimately, it's a fine but formulaic first entry in a comic book franchise akin to debut efforts from other Marvel heroes with enough highs (and the usual lows and weaknesses) to sustain itself. It just never quite lives up to the charms of Rudd or Wright's likely bolder original vision.
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