As a rollicking if innocuous expansion pack to the oceanic MCU, Ant-Man is largely a character-driven affair that’s succumbed to unfortunate timeline placement. Opening with a meeting of the minds-cum-fallout circa 1989, it becomes abundantly clear that Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is undyingly protective of his breakthrough brainchild the Pym Particle: a subatomic compound that allows for the shrinking of matter whilst it retains all of its original physical attributes. Two-plus decades later, unstable and successor to the Pym throne Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has closed in on replicating the formula, thus alarming Pym himself and prompting the recruitment of recently sprung ex-con and would-be electrical engineer Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Given Lang’s skillful proclivity for thievery in the face of adversity, he’s recruited in an attempt to quell Cross’ ill motives via elaborate heist scheme, all the while pining for his daughter’s love amid requisite preparatory training montages.
Despite Ant-Man’s early prominence as an inaugural member of Marvel’s Avengers, the film in question unavoidably pales in comparison to the MCU’s more renowned heavy hitters, prompting me to wonder just how disparate Wright’s involvement could (and assuredly would) have been. Instead, we’re bombarded with a lot of expository pseudo science that fails to elevate the proceedings above the simplicity of character origin trappings and a general banality of narrative. Humanism is confined to basal familial relationships and corresponding motives – Lang longs to reconcile with his estranged daughter; Pym with his – yet its all ineffectual as the predictable evolution of Rudd’s at-first bumbling Lang segues into a comparably ordinary heist caper.
For as detail-heavy Ant-Man is regarding the Pym Particle and its wide-reaching gravitas, the proceedings can’t help but pander to the Marvel cinematic stencil we’ve come to expect from every subsequent franchise entry. Rudd is fine as Lang and exudes serviceable chemistry with Douglas and Evangeline Lilly as Pym’s daughter Hope but, at the end of the day, Ant-Man is too largely inconsequential as an attempt to broaden the broad with a lack of sustained engagement in the vein of other films’ multi-strand narrative bombast. Thankfully, there’s still fun to be had thanks to the charming juvenility of size-changing sight gags and one-liners.
Thanks to a combination of formula and bad timing, Ant-Man‘s introduction into the MCU is just that: a mild-mannered insertion of the character’s mythos into a recognizably dense body of predecessors. Wright’s unfortunate departure aside, I find it hard to believe that even his panache as a witty, moreover stylistically-inclined purveyor of quality cinema could’ve substantially elevated the film above fanboy expectations. It’s biggest problem is that it exists and attempts to thrive within a singular, unexplored universe to little avail to the opposite effect of last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy. A poor and obvious comparison for sure, however the performances and intermittent wit serve to overshadow maudlin narrative chunks and mostly flaccid action set pieces.