Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lily
Directed by: Peyton Reed (“Bring It On”)
Written by: Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”) & Joe Cornish (“Attack the Block”) and Adam McKay (“Anchorman”) & Paul Rudd (debut)
“Ant-Man” will likely remain the biggest “what if?” in the lifetime of the Marvel cinematic universe (unless they actually produce a movie based on the alternate-reality comic book series “What If?”) due to one big giant reason: the departure of original director and screenwriter Edgar Wright. The fanboy-favorite “Scott Pilgrim” filmmaker famously left the film last year—after nearly a decade of development—due to creative differences. With a cast in place and a release date looming, Marvel quickly brought in director Peyton Reed and punched up the script with contributions from star Paul Rudd and “Anchorman” writer/director Adam McKay—all clear signs this movie would be leaning further toward comedy than any Marvel movie released so far. And yeah, the movie is fun and funny at times, but the lumpiness of the rewrites, clashes of tone, and the general tamping down of Rudd’s easy charisma rob the film of what could have been an energetic “Guardians of the Galaxy”-style offbeat excitement.
The movie opens with good-hearted criminal Scott Lang (Rudd) being released from prison. Lang was locked up for stealing money back from scamming corporations, but a criminal record is a criminal record, and he can’t land a job outside of Baskin Robbins. When he loses that job thanks to his background, Lang’s loveable criminal friend Luis (Michael Peña) offers him an easy score: break into a safe at some old hermit’s house and steal the loot inside. Lang agrees, but all he finds in the vault is some strange body suit and helmet, which he steals anyway. Out of curiosity, Scott puts the suit on and presses a mysterious button that instantly shrinks him down to the size of an insect. The suit he stole belongs to Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the original Ant-Man, and he needs Scott’s help to stop a madman from using the shrinking technology for nefarious purposes.
“Ant-Man” feels like a smaller Marvel movie, likely by design. It’s a welcome respite from the end of the world scenario that the Avengers, et al, typically deal with, but the light-hearted, goofy adventure side of the film is undone by the dour, cliché-ridden parallel father/daughter redemption stories and some leaps of logic in the plot, like why does Lang steal the suit at all, other than to move the plot forward? Rudd’s natural likeability is neutered in the movie, his quick sarcasm and mischievous grin smushed under the weight of having to prove he’s a good guy to not just his daughter, but his ex-wife (Judy Greer, in another thankless role) and his wife’s new cop husband (Bobby Cannavale, apparently one of the two cops in San Francisco). The futile question gets asked, of course, because it must be asked: what would an Edgar Wright “Ant-Man” have looked like? Many fanboys will be wondering about this for many a Comic Con to come.