I don't know about you, but when I was a kid, I used to put my eye up really close to the carpet, the record player, and especially to my toys and I'd imagine what it would be like to be really, really small. I thought about how cool it would be to sit in an X-Wing or to run through the fibers of the carpet like giant stalks of vegetation.
Ant-Man is best when it makes this spark of my childhood imagination come to life.
Everything else is only okay.
The story is set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) used to be a hero who could shrink in size known as the Ant-Man. But he is older now and fears that this technology will fall into the evil hands of his protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). So with the help of his long-suffering daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Hank seeks the aid of Robin Hood-like cat burglar named Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who is an ex-con looking to earn enough money to gain visitation rights to his young estranged daughter Cassie (an adorable Abby Rider Fortson). What follows is a typical Marvel origin story.
This movie works very well when it concentrates on the action set before it, whether it involves training sequences, heists, or battles. When the movie slows down it has some real issues. The main problem with the movie is that the exposition is SO clunky and horribly shoehorned into scenes that have no business being related. All movies do this to some extent and we accept it as a contrivance. But Ant-Man jams so much exposition down your throat between action sequences that it took me out of the film. To give you an idea, here is an approximation of what some of the dialogue is like:
Scott: Who taught you how to punch?
Hope: My mother who died so many years ago and my father is lying about how she died, which is why I resent him so much. And that is probably why he won't allow me to wear the Ant-Man suit and why I dislike you so much because my father doesn't believe in my but he believes in a no-good criminal like you.
I am over exaggerating. But you get the point. And none of these exposition moments feel organic. I can almost hear the Marvel exec saying, "You need to have her say this thing about her father so we can have the scene where Hank explain what happened and set up something we'll cover in Ant-Man part V!"
But that is the biggest drawback. Beyond these, it is actually a very nice movie. The performances are very charming, especially the ever affable Rudd who makes our main hero, who is essentially a criminal and a dead-beat dad, very endearing. Lilly and Douglas also do very well in grounding this fantastic story. The major laughs come through Michael Pena as Scott's criminal buddy Luis. His exuberance and cadence perfectly capture the personality of many students I have had, so his character felt very real. Stoll's performance as the main villain is a bit over the top. The plot tries to explain why this is, but it never feels terribly believable.
Themeatically, there isn't a whole lot of depth. Scott does go on a journey of growth towards responsibility, but it feels tacked on. The movie also goes the Mrs. Doubtfire route of accepting the brokenness of the family and tries to navigate that social mine-field. It at least does a good job of not making the Cassie's step father Paxton (Bobby Cavanale) not feel like a one-note obstacle. It also has a little bit of carry-over vibe from the Occupy Wall Street movement from a few years back, but this is very subtle and minor. The most Catholic thing about the movie is the idea of atonement and redemption. Scott has to make up for his past wrongs, as does Hank. But as I said, this never gets deep enough to make to large of an impact.
The real treat, though is when we join Scott in the over-sized version of our world. All of the sudden, everyday things look brand new and in some cases terrifying. Despite the story problems, I couldn't help but get caught up in the magic of Ant-Man's world view. Director Peyton Reed deserves a good deal of credit for making some of my favorite special effects of the year because they really were special. I wanted to spend so much more time bouncing around a briefcase or traveling around on top of Thomas the Tank Engine.
Perhaps I am being overly harsh on this movie. I have come to expect a higher quality from Marvel after delivering amazing films like Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Ant-Man would probably rank just above Iron Man 2. But with so much of the exposition out of the way, future Ant-Man stories should be much better.
With this movie, the bad parts drag but the good parts soar.
3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars