It appears that superheroes now come in two basic molds: the dark, brooding, angst-ridden mold (Batman, Spider-Man, Wolverine) and the wise-ass funny guy mold (Iron Man, Peter Quill – “Guardians of the Galaxy” – and now, the latest addition, Scott Lang, aka, Ant-Man)
“Ant-Man” is a great comedy routine in search of a story.
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a burglar with a heart of gold and a daughter he longs to be worthy of. When we meet him, he’s now leaving prison, intent on going straight. Clearly, that’s never going to happen. And for reasons that defy logic, he’s recruited by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a highly principled scientist who’s invented a suit which can shrink its wearer to the size (and relative power) of an ant. He’s also, handily developed a means of communicating with and controlling ants. Hank wants Lang to break into a highly guarded facility to steal a similar shrink-to-fit suit developed by one of Dr. Pym’s assistants, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll from “House of Cards”). Cross has fewer scruples than Dr Pym and has sold the technology to a league of bad guys (all of whom look like bankers. I can only assume this was coincidental).
As an arch nemesis, Corey Stoll is dull and unconvincing. In terms of real bad guys (think Ultron), two men the size of ants wrecking a child’s play room somehow lacks the drama of the usual full scale destruction of cities we’re accustomed to.
And as the mastermind of the invention, Michael Douglas seems to have wandered in from another movie, emoting boorishly about a dead wife. For some reason, Dr. Pym has sought to lie about the reason for her death to his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly, still “Lost”). This is a sub plot that seems to have been sliced into the story to add some sort of emotional centre to the movie.
Hope’s role (she mainly has to react to everything that’s going on around her) is part of the new trend in ‘love interest babes’. Whereas once these eye candy objects of romance simply screamed and looked vulnerable and fragile (Kristin Dunst as Spiderman’s girl), now, since this cliché probably isn’t doing well with focus groups, the new love interest type is the powerful boss bitch type (Bryce Dallas Howard of “Jurassic World”) who finally melts into the arms of the superhero.
And yet, almost despite itself, “Ant-Man” is quite fun. Paul Rudd is a charming, self-effacing, thoroughly unlikely superhero. Between his smartass repartee and the flamboyant storytelling of his excitable Latino friend Luis (Michael Peña of “Fury” and “American Hustle”), much of this movie is laugh out loud, funny. There are some very clever lines and superb visual gags. It’s as though the director (Peyton Reid who was shoe-horned into the role when the original director was fired) really wanted to shoot a comedy but had to pay lip service to a few superhero tropes.
More than this, some of the special effects (in particular, one sequence when Ant-Man shrinks to a sub atomic scale and enters a quantum universe) are imaginative and beautifully executed (much more interesting than the much lauded accuracy of the “Interstellar” black hole sequences)
And so, once again, with it $58M opening week-end, the Marvel hit machine seems to have turned an ant into its latest franchise giant.