From my count, “Ant-Man” is now the 12th entry in the ongoing Marvel Universe franchise that began with 2008’s “Iron Man,” and after the pounding CGI-fury that was “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the story of the biggest little hero in the world feels the most stripped down of all the Marvel films. Even if you’re up for this change of pace, chances are still pretty good you are in for a disappointment.
Fresh out of prison, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a cat burglar with a social-justice conscience and way behind on child support payments. His criminal past won’t let him get his life together, which is the only way he will ever see his precocious daughter, so he agrees to the quick money promised with a house robbery. All the robbery yields, though, is what looks like a leather motorcycle suit and helmet.
The motorcycle suit is actually a uniform, one with buttons sewn into the gloves that when pressed allow the wearer to shrink at will to ant size. The inventor is Hank Pym (the always welcome Michael Douglas), a one-time S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and near-recluse who for 25 years has been living in fear of someone discovering his invention.
That someone is Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), Pym’s former protégé, who is now an unstable, power-hungry megalomaniac with serious daddy issues. Thrown in for good measure is Pym’s estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who’s put herself in the dangerous position of getting close to Cross in order to spy on him.
“Ant-Man” essentially takes place in two locations — Pym’s cluttered home and the corporate laboratory that doubles as Cross’s lair. And it doesn’t take long before you feel the walls close in. What’s mostly lacking is tension and imagination. The plot is a mish-mash of an origin story and a heist film, which makes for endless amounts of exposition that climaxes with a letdown of a robbery. Despite the possibilities available in the concept, the movie never gets better than what you saw in the trailer.
Scott’s first shrinking experience, which starts with an impressive bathtub sequence, is the best of all of these sequences. The action that follows is frantic and hard to follow. Even with all the exposition spewed beforehand to explain the stakes, the heist doesn’t make much sense or summon a sense of peril. The details should be fun and clever. Instead they feel contrived to serve the plot.
Rudd is an interesting choice for a superhero. The script (which he helped write) lets him down, especially the humor, where you would think he’d shine.
“Ant-Man” is never boring, nor is it anything close to rousing. The actors do what they can with characters and relationships we’ve seen a million times before. The CGI, as always, is nothing more than an expensive cartoon.
As a standalone, you would miss nothing missing “Ant-Man.” Because of its place in the franchise, you will probably have to see it at least once — which of course is the true genius of the Marvel Universe.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC