The concept of a shrinking superhero seems silly at first glance. After all, how effective can a bite-sized crusader be? According to Marvel’s “Ant-Man,” the answer is very.
Marvel has produced an array of films about their lesser heroes, such as “Iron Man,” “Thor” and the “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and successfully made them A-list properties. The studio’s treatment of “Ant-Man” works in a similar fashion, offering entertaining set pieces and great character work. But after Marvel Studios’ eleven preceding films, “Ant-Man” feels all-too familiar, rehashing tested plot formulas and moments from superior superhero flicks.
“Ant-Man” focuses on the comics’ second iteration of its titular hero, a downtrodden thief named Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Lang has just been released from prison and is struggling to pin down a stable job. Lang’s ex-wife (Judy Greer) urges him to improve himself so he can serve as a role model for their daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson).
Driven to make a lot of money quickly, Lang turns back to crime with his buddies — one of them played by the hilarious Michael Peña — and burgles the house of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), the original Ant-Man and founder of Pym Technologies. Soon after, officials arrest Lang, who managed to only steal the Ant-Man suit. Pym offers to free Lang but only if he agrees to help him steal a dangerous new suit that utilizes Pym Tech’s Ant-Man technology.
Rudd brings charm and humor to the titular role — his earnestness and sarcastic one-liners make Lang someone audiences will root for from the get-go. Douglas delivers a solid turn as the jaded Pym, though the character’s backstory is less interesting than that of his comic book counterpart’s.
Evangeline Lilly, who plays Pym’s daughter Hope, does excellent work as well, displaying action heroine toughness that will be invaluable when she becomes another superhero, the Wasp, in future Marvel pictures.
“Ant-Man’s” action scenes are an inventive blast. Kids will surely love Lang’s ability to confuse his enemies by shrinking. Lang still possesses the same strength when he’s small, which means he applies a massive amount of force to a tiny area with each punch; his blows end up rivalling the power of Captain America’s. Reed sometimes pulls back from the small-scale action, whether it be in a suitcase or on a Thomas the Tank Engine toy set, for some amusing wide shots.
“Ant-Man” plays like a heist film. Director Peyton Reed spends much of the first two acts detailing how the characters assemble the pieces needed for their heist, while the final third is the explosive payoff. While it’s nice to see “Ant-Man” dabble in another genre, it’s nothing audiences haven’t seen.
The same goes for the villain, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), the current head of Pym Tech and a less-interesting version of Jeff Bridges’ Iron Monger. Cross is a greedy bad guy who wants to sell his own shrinking suit, called the Yellowjacket, to other nameless bad guys.
Of course, his plan has apocalyptic implications yada yada yawn — when is Marvel going to realize smaller scale threats, such as the Joker in “The Dark Knight,” can still heighten the stakes? Stoll screams, leers and throws some good punches, but his Cross is far from memorable.
“Ant-Man” isn’t as revolutionary as the shrinking power of its hero’s suit, and it won’t convert Marvel’s naysayers. But, it offers enough heart, humor and action to satisfy fans.
Running Time: 117 Minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13