Review: ‘Ant-Man’ is good, but nothing special

“Ant-Man,” the 12th entry in Marvel Studios’ shared movieverse, starts to distinguish itself too late. It is a perfectly acceptable superhero/heist hybrid, with the requisite amount of jokes for one of the studio’s funnier outings, the standard charming rogue hero, and the perfunctory tie-in to the universe’s dubious S.H.I.E.L.D. organization. Until the end, it is workmanlike, which leads to a movie that is entertaining enough but not one of the genre’s (or the shared universe’s) high points.

The topic was already beaten to death before the movie hit the screens, but much of “Ant-Man’s” sanded-down edges seem attributable to the musical chairs played by its directors and screenwriters prior to release. Originally the brainchild of Edgar Wright, known for the inventive visuals and off-kilter comedy of cult classics like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” “Ant-Man” was handed off to director Peyton Reed and screenwriters Adam McKay and Paul Rudd (who also stars) after Wright walked due to Marvel’s meddling, reportedly to make the film adhere to the Marvel template.

With that knowledge, it’s easy to imagine what a quirkier, weirder version of “Ant-Man” would have looked like. It’s also tempting to try to pick out which parts remained true to the original plotting of Wright and co-writer Joe Cornish, but such games don’t change the movie we’re left with.

“Ant-Man” tells the story of Scott Lang (Rudd), a cat burglar targeting 1 percenters who’s looking to go straight before he’s dragged into one last heist by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), super-scientist and the original Ant-Man. Pym, who developed the atomic formula that allows objects to shrink and grow on his command, needs Scott’s deviant skills to steal a replica of his shrinking technology that’s been weaponized with ill intent. To grab the evil shrinking suit, however, Lang will need to don Pym’s old suit, as well as earn the trust of Pym’s estranged daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily).

Much has been made of “Ant-Man” being a smaller scale film than many of its predecessors, but that’s only half true. While the stage of the movie’s climax isn’t one of national chaos, it still puts the fate of the world in the balance – arguably more so than some of the studio’s early films like“Thor,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “Iron Man,” the latter of which gets much of its plot lifted for “Ant-Man.”

There isn’t much bad to say about “Ant-Man.” It comports itself amiably. It boasts a game cast, particularly Rudd, Sheen and Michael Pena as Lang’s motormouthed cell mate. The dialogue is snappy, and rewrites reportedly gave more of an arc to Lily’s Hope, who comes off as a bit severe while holding the promise of meatier material in future films. However, it isn’t any more than the sum of its parts. It’s all good for a chuckle and a few scenes of shrinking action, but it’s just not memorable until the final fight.

However, that final fight (which all takes place in a child’s bedroom) and the minutes immediately preceding it are a fun thing to behold. Perhaps a little too late, “Ant-Man” starts thinking of some entertaining things to do with its shrinking technology, leading to amusing chaos and most of the striking shots in the film. It’s a sure sign of a missed opportunity, but it’s also entertaining on its own merits, so the sting of disappointment isn’t too sharp.

In the end, “entertaining, but lacking” is an apt description for “Ant-Man” as a whole. It’s a fun movie, but it’s haunted by the suspicion that it could have looked and sounded a lot better. If this review doesn’t say a lot about the film’s actual content, there’s a reason for that: you’ve seen it all before.

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