Marvel Studios has now produced 12 movies since 2008, and it’s safe to say that they’ve developed a formula that pleases their fan base and generates a terrific return on investment.
Half their films have been origin stories so far, and the latest reveals that the formula is beginning to wear thin. Story-wise, Ant-Man sticks to the basics, introducing Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, a physicist who has developed a suit that allows the wearer to shrink in size while retaining his or her proportional strength. Pym, however, fears that the technology he has created could be used for evil purposes, so he withdraws the suit and is forced out of his own company.
His former protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), takes over control of the company and endeavors to replicate Pym’s technology. He is aided by Pym’s daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who is estranged from her father. When Pym becomes aware that Cross is on the threshold of recreating the shrinking technology, he recruits Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a master thief, to wear the old suit and steal Cross’ work to protect mankind.
Lang has his own problems. He’s an ex-convict who has been recently paroled and yearns to be reunited with his young daughter. His ex-wife Maggie (Judy Geer) remains suspicious of him, and so does her new husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), a police officer. Lang has been having trouble finding suitable employment, prompting him to return to his thieving ways with a small criminal gang led by his former prison cellmate Luis (Michael Pena). That introduces Lang to Pym, and eventually to an opportunity to become Ant-Man.
Long in development, the film once held the promise of standing alone, but with the passage of years and the success of Marvel’s blockbuster formula, priorities changed and the decision was made to fit Ant-Man safely within the company’s cinematic universe. While that’s understandable from a business standpoint, creatively speaking it reduced the storytelling options available.
Thus, Ant-Man very much feels like a minor entry in the Marvel canon. The familial conflicts are familiar, the development of the characters are familiar, and the action sequences are very familiar. As directed by Peyton Reed, there is little to distinguish the movie from the 11 entries that have preceded it, beyond the particulars of the titular character’s powers and the minuscule settings that it pretends to explore through the magic of computerized graphics.
Ant-Man is okay, nothing more than a safe and sanitized big-screen version of a comic book, and nothing less than a slick and tidy packaging of action-movie stereotypes.
The film has preview screenings at select theaters tonight before opening wide across the region tomorrow.