If there's one thing Marvel does well, better than anyone, it's genre. Take a look back over their filmography and you'll see either knowing nods to them or, in some cases, they're flat-out making a genre film. The most pointed example is either Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Guardians of the Galaxy. The former was borrowing heavily from '70s conspiracy thrillers like Three Days of the Condor whereas Guardians of the Galaxy was a space opera along the lines of Star Wars. In both instances, they worked beautifully. Alas, sometimes the overarching presence of the vaunted Marvel Cinematic Universe encroaches and we're left with something half-baked. Just look at Thor: The Dark World.
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a cat burglar freshly released from prison who's attempting to go straight. When his cohort, Luis (a scene-stealing Michael Pena), offers him a fool-proof job in a mansion that'll be a big score for them, he reluctantly agrees after being fired from a menial customer service job. The heist, as you'd expect, results in Lang finding the infamous Ant-Man suit. Parallel to this, the owner of said suit, one Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is battling his maniacal protege (Corey Stoll) and his attempts to replicate the suit for Evil Purposes. Basically, he wants to sell the invention to the military and make a wodge of cash. Once Pym discovers that Lang has stolen the suit, he offers him a shot at redemption - break into the laboratory and steal the suit.
Paul Rudd's laconic, easy-going charm is put to full use. Here, we see a genuine antidote to the overbearing seriousness of comic-book superheroes. He's not embattled with emotions or riven with self-doubt or even overly cocksure. He's just a guy, with a daughter, trying to make a living for himself.The more darker elements come from Michael Douglas.It's an interesting facet of later Marvel movies that they're exploring just how untrustworthy authority figures are. Pym's backstory, which involves Tragic Loss / Betrayal, is played out in a quick flashback that is genuinely affecting. Douglas has enough gravitas to list off some of the more ridiculous scenes without missing a beat. The reason for Ant-Man and the character's absence from the previous films is explained well and it's believable - for the universe. Likewise, the interplay between his on-screen daughter Evangeline Lily is easy and unforced. However, the usual Marvel caveats of an underdeveloped villain are still present. Corey Stoll's mad scientist is just a little too much of a stretch - even by Marvel standards. Michael Pena, however, turns in a scene-stealing performance as Luis. The comedic elements stem from his belief that he's not in a Marvel movie, but an Elmore Leonard-adapted movie. There's a soundtrack reference to Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown. How many comic-book movies have that?
Where the film loses its edge is, sadly, in the direction. Here and there, we see flashes of Wright's blisteringly fast camera moves and snappy dialogue.Edgar Wright spent several years developing Ant-Man, long before journeyman Peyton Reed stepped into steer the film onto the screen. Reed does a decent job of making the best out of what's he got in front of him and still honour Wright's vision.The sad thing is that Reed doesn't necessarily have one of his own and that's what Marvel movies need - someone with a clear vision and a precise look to it all. Take the first Thor, directed by Kenneth Branagh. Here, he turned a superhero film into a Shakespearean tragedy. What followed it? A heavily diluted copy of what came before. Thankfully, Ant-Man is nowhere near as disappointing as Thor: The Dark World.
As you watch Ant-Man, it's impossible not to look at it and think what might have been.Nevertheless, you've got to put it out of your mind and appreciate it on its own merits, because it is not without them. Rudd and Douglas' on-screen chemistry, the unique fight sequences and the comedy on display all deserve your time and attention.
Sure, it's not what was originally intended, but it's still worthy of being called a Marvel movie.