In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be an “Ant-Man” movie. Oh, there would be something playing at your local theater with the name “Ant-Man”, but it wouldn’t be “Ant-Man” or technically a movie. Instead, after an unnaturally long credits sequence, “Ant-Man” would be revealed as that “Mac & Me” clip Paul Rudd plays every time he appears on “Conan.” Once the clip ends, the theater manager –dressed as the doomed, wheelchair-bound child from the clip – will burst from the screen brandishing a shotgun. After cocking the gun the manager will announce, “There will be no refunds.” He then fires a round into the ceiling to emphasize his point. The audience will be forced to walk home without their shoes.
But, unfortunately, this is far from a perfect world and instead of being a delightfully vicious prank, “Ant-Man” (or “Uncle-Woman” if you’re trying to make your ungrateful, disappointment of a 9-year-old son smile for three damned seconds) is a mediocre movie that is indistinguishable from the increasingly same-y product cranked out by Marvel Studios. It’s pleasant enough and features a bad guy that looks almost exactly like Pitbull, but who cares? I’d rather be forced to walk home in my socks by a crazed theater manager because at least that would be memorable.
Haven’t seen “Ant-Man” yet? Good news. If you’ve seen any of the other Marvel Studios offerings, you already have. On the surface, this film appears to be a creative departure for the studio, at least cosmetically. It’s jokier, it’s somewhat modeled on heist movies like “Ocean’s Eleven” and there’s a tiny little man who rides around on the back of a friendly ant he calls Antony (Aww! I wish I was a tiny little man who gave all of the ants tiny little hugs)! But the template is still there. It’s “Iron Man” if “Iron Man” was really worried you might take all of this seriously so it announces every five minutes that its “just kidding” and points to its left eye as it slowly winks at you – just in case you were still unclear.
The same action figures we’ve seen several times before were removed from their packaging and carefully posed in front of the camera. There’s a wisecracking underdog (Paul Rudd, charming as always) who overcomes incredible odds, an ineffectual bad guy (a man that isn’t Pitbull) that isn’t played by Hugo Weaving, Tom Hiddleston or James Spader and, thus, instantly fades from your memory, a Diane (Evangeline Lilly) to the wisecracking underdog’s Sam who is mostly relegated to the sidelines (but, thankfully, unlike the Black Widow in “Age of Ultron.” Lilly isn’t forced into becoming Ant-Man’s lover/mommy) and an onslaught of in-jokes that cause the nerdier members of the audience to squeal daintily and elbow a disinterested companion until they’re ribs are bruised for not knowing that The Milgrom Hotel setting in this movie is a tribute to Al Milgrom, the penciler behind “West Coast Avengers,” “Secret Wars II” and other unloved Marvel comics.
To be fair, “Ant-Man” is a much better movie than its troubled and rather rushed production history implies. Occasionally, you’ll get a glimpse of the interesting movie “Ant-Man” could have been if it wasn’t a victim of Marvel Studios’ inflexible timetable. A trip into a sub-atomic world recalls the psychedelic trappings of the old “Fantastic Four” comic, while a climactic fight scene between Ant-Man and a man who could have rapped “Rain Over Me” (but didn’t) is cleverly mocking the apocalyptic superhero smackdowns seen in films like “The Man of Steel.”
There’s even a murderer’s row of character actors like Michael Pena, Judy Greer, Jon Slattery and Gregg Turkington (sadly not appearing as his “nationally known comedian” character Neil Hamburger). But those moments are fleeting. The script is a crazy-quilt of clichés, obvious first draft placeholders and clashing comedic voices. Adam McKay’s deadpan, improvisatory weirdness doesn’t work alongside Edgar Wright’s whimsical genre deconstruction, which is why watching “Ant-Man” is like eating a peanut butter and doorknob sandwich. Given time, “Ant-Man” could have been this summer’s witty answer to “The Guardians of the Galaxy.”
“Ant-Man’s” hasty construction ensured its legacy will forever symbolize squandered potential and be recognized as the first casualty in Marvel Studios’ continuing superhero movie arms race.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Paull Rudd and Michael Douglas
Director: Peyton Reed
Weekender Rating: WWV