Small Wonder: Ant-Man

07/15/2015 9:22 AM |
image courtesy of Disney

Directed by Peyton Reed
Opens July 17

Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man is a self-effacing ex-con whose superpower is getting really, really small. But despite that promising premise, this ironic Marvel movie fails to truly subvert the played-out superhero genre.

Rewritten by Rudd and Adam McKay after writer-director Edgar Wright and his writing partner Joe Cornish left the project, Ant-Man’s screenplay rings only minor variations on common themes, like its focus on a father-daughter rather than a father-son relationship; its self-mocking, slightly absurdist tone would likely have been stronger if Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) had stayed on as director. Still, there’s enough bubbly energy in the action sequences and enough irreverence in the dialogue to make this a likeable enough contrast to all those dankly self-serious comic book movies. As Scott Lang, a surprisingly buff Rudd comments faux-innocently on other characters’ portentous actions or expository speeches. “Damn, that was a good speech!” he exclaims after one earnest peroration.

Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, whose alpha-male bombast fits right into the Marvel mold), a scientist and inventor who has opted out of the superhero game, recruits Scott to don his discarded Ant-Man suit to “break into a place and steal some stuff.” Scott’s Very Important Mission is to prevent Pym’s protégé turned nemesis, Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll), from using Pym’s discovery to create miniature fighters for the military.

The suit allows Scott to shrink down to about the size of an ant and back again at will, while imbuing him with superhuman strength. That may not be as impressive a superpower as, say, flying, as Scott ruefully acknowledges when he goes up against a more conventional Marvel character, the imperious Falcon (Anthony Mackie). But it opens the door to some entertaining experimentation with perspective, like his precipitous introduction to the suit, a slam-bang tour of his apartment and the bar below that ends with a tiny Scott falling onto the roof of a cab and then reverting to full size, to his and the cabbie’s consternation. Except for one brief scene in which he uses it to sneak into his ex-wife’s house at night to see his sleeping daughter, though, we never see Scott messing with the suit, trying things just to see how they feel or to accomplish something he wants to do. Instead, he’s always carrying out Pym’s mission. That includes some entertaining miniaturized b&e, like a scene of Scott surfing through a PVC pipe on a rushing stream of water, but it mostly involves either training to fight or fighting, a tiresome trope that’s particularly disappointing in a story whose whole premise is that there are better uses for the Pym particle than creating supercharged soldiers.

But the energy and inventiveness of the miniaturization scenes, which include vertiginous shots taken of actual objects with a macro lens to make them look gigantic, almost make up for the familiarity of their content. In one fight, Ant-Man reverts to full size just in time to swat Yellowjacket onto a bug zapper with a ping-pong paddle. At moments like that, Ant-Man feels huge.