Yet another satellite in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant Man*** is a cute idea about a shrinking superhero that is ultimately blown out of all proportion.
The production was gestated for many years by the British duo of Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish but they were summarily dropped by the studio. They retain story credits and, presumably to pacify, Wright has the satisfaction of being billed as Executive Producer alongside legendary Marvel founder Stan Lee. (Stan gets a cameo; I didn’t spot Edgar.)
But you can’t help thinking how this might have turned out better had the studio stuck to the original plan. Wright’s masterstroke was to secure the acting talent of Paul Rudd as our unlikely hero. Better known as a likeable comic performer (I Love You Man, Anchorman, This is 40) Rudd’s essential on-screen softness makes him a counter-intuitive choice as a world saviour, the nice irony being that he becomes tiny when he dons the super suit.
This first film – as with most Marvel films, one assumes there’ll be a sequel or that we’ll at least see more of Ant-Man in some other offshoot movie – is a necessary “origins story” or “creation myth” as Hollywood likes to call them.
It results in a bit of a plod through the uninteresting backstory of Rudd’s character Scott Lang, a safecracking cat burglar fresh out of jail and anxious to go straight to regain the trust of his ex-wife (Judy Greer) and cute daughter, both of whom now live with a San Francisco cop (Bobby Cannevale).
Desperate to meet child benefit payments and gain visitation rights to his daughter, Scott is lured into robbing the ant suit from inventor and deposed industrialist Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who uses his new stooge to rectify the tyrannical regime at his former research plant now run by Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), inventor of the dangerous prototype shrinking Yellowjacket battle suit.
There’s an uneasy mix of tone here, and you sense Marvel didn’t want too much comedy undermining what they see as the serious business of being a super hero. Yet the funny bits are what work best, especially with Rudd’s face as our barometer, riding precariously on the back of a flying ant he’s called Anthony.
The best sequences – they always are in the first of a franchise – are when the hero gets used to his new powers for the first time. Here, Scott shrinks in the bath, flees giant waves, flushes down a plug hole, slips through floorboards and into the grooves of a vinyl record on a turntable, then onto a dance floor, under the skirting, dodging a rat, racing out the window and landing on a taxi below.
Apart from that stuff, there’s way too much father and daughter emoting and lots of people poring over blueprints and flat plans trying to work out how to get a tiny man and his band of ant associates into a top secret secure facility.
It’s all a bit silly and never particularly exciting nor emotionally engaging, without the grandiose themes or spectacular battles of, say, the Avengers movies.
So, while it’s just a minor summer superhero movie, dedicated fans will enjoy spotting cameos from other Marvel characters, such as Anthony Mackie’s Falcon and, as is now customary in these films’ final credits, it looks like there’s new character on the way from Evangeline Lilly who plays Pym’s daughter, Hope, and Scott’s possible new love interest. She’s shown a new suit with a very tight nipped-in waist, so get ready for… Wasp.
I can wait.