One year ago, Marvel pitched us a film about a bunch of superheroes nobody remembered. Despite the potential for disaster, “Guardians of the Galaxy” hit all the right notes and became a runaway summer hit, scoring more than $300 million domestic. Now, Marvel is hoping to prove the classic proverb wrong and have lightning strike twice.
“Ant-Man” is a hero from a time when Stan Lee was throwing pretty much everything against the wall to see what would stick. Sure, Ant-Man is a founding member of The Avengers, but this is from a time when that group fought villains like Egghead and Wonder Man. So, clearly, updating Ant-Man is a gamble.
The film follows Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a thief with a heart of gold who is fresh out of prison and looking to get back on the straight and narrow. He has an ex-wife, a daughter that he loves but does not get to see a lot, and no prospects for a job because of his felon status.
After being fired from his job at Baskin Robbins, Lang is desperate to find a way to start getting caught up on child support payments so his wife and her new husband will start allowing him more time with his daughter. And so, Lang’s roommate (and former cellmate) Luis (Michael Pena) drags him back in for one more job: a safe-cracking at a rich retiree’s house.
The retiree in question turns out to be Professor Hank Pym, a biochemist who, years previously, had developed the “Pym Particle,” which allows for the manipulation of physical matter. When Lang cracks open Pym’s safe, he finds the Ant-Man suit, which, when energized with Pym Particles, allows the wearer to shrink and grow at will. Hyjinks ensue.
As mentioned, “Ant-Man” came to life with the deck stacked against it. The character is not one that a lot of your mainstream audience will be overly familiar with, and with The Avengers already firmly established with two of their own films, there seems little reason to care about one of their ancient cast-offs. “Guardians of the Galaxy” overcame many of the same problems by being hilarious, surprisingly self-aware and a ton of fun. “Ant-Man” … has some neat effects.
Visually speaking, the shrinking effect is amazing to watch. As an ant-sized Paul Rudd scrambles and tumbles around in an oversized bathtub or across a floor full of dancing party-goers, the scenes look beautiful and action-packed. The climactic fight against the villain Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll) is hilarious, exciting and as fun as most anything “Guardians” showed us. From an aesthetic point, this film is gorgeous to behold.
But beyond the pretty colors, “Ant-Man” is poorly paced and extremely back-loaded. Rudd is acceptable enough as the hero, but the secondary characters — most notably Evangeline Lilly’s almost completely unlikable turn as Pym’s daughter Hope, and Stoll’s thoroughly beige performance — are bland and forgettable at best.
“Ant-Man” is certainly not the worst film that Marvel has churned out during its superhero renaissance. There is a heavy amount of charm, and it really is one of the more visually fun films in the studio’s catalog. And yet, when I ask people about their favorite parts of the film, everyone talks about the parts that reference other, better Marvel franchises.
“Ant-Man,” despite being a fairly middle-of-the-pack film by Marvel’s quality standards, may wind up being a hugely important film for the comic juggernaut’s movie future. Because as Marvel looks to transition from it’s “Phase 2” films into “Phase 3,” the biggest question “Ant-Man” has set up is: Are audiences finally experiencing super hero fatigue? CV