Ant-Man is a fun, serviceable but ultimately forgettable film, forever at risk of collapsing from too much thought on its wobbly narrative. Case in point: towards the end, Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym catches his daughter, Evangeline Lily as Hope, kissing Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang. “When did this start?” asks Pym. Good question, I thought, because there’d been no setup, no sexual tension, no romantic back-and-forth. The kiss is a moment apparently in the script because someone thought they should be kissing at that point. It doesn’t make a lick of sense and has no consequences anyway. Such is Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man.
That’s not to say the film isn’t any good — it’s certainly no Thor: The Dark World. It’s laugh-out-loud funny at times and it’s nice to see a Marvel film that isn’t in some way leading up to The Big Thanos Event that’s still three years off. Ant-Man is a small comedy heist flick that happens to feature superheroes, and in scope it’s more like, say, The Wolverine, or the recent Daredevil TV series — personal, self-contained and focused. The shrunken scenes have an enjoyable Honey, I Shrunk the Kids vibe to them, and fights inside a briefcase and on a child’s train set are wonderful and witty. There’s enough Edgar Wright left in the film to make the film feel agreeably like an Edgar Wright knock-off but the film also fits comfortably into the wider Marvel universe with the usual array of fan-pleasing cameos. Paul Rudd is also surprisingly tolerable when you think about how he’s been saddled for so long with the handicap of being Paul Rudd.
The problem is, this just isn’t Rudd’s film; just as his character intrudes upon an emotional moment between Pym and Hope, so his character intrudes upon Hope’s entire narrative arc. Hope spends a large part of the film with an expression so sour it’s as if she’s forever walking into a toilet someone’s just used, and her grumpiness is understandable: there’s no practical or logical reason that she couldn’t have been the hero and it’s frustrating to watch her train Lang to do everything she’s already mastered when the only reason she’s sidelined is for vague “it’s too dangerous, I was just trying to protect you” handwaving. Even more insulting to the character: Hank Pym referring sadly to “the son he never had” when talking to the film’s antagonist and Pym’s protégé, Darren Cross (another forgettable Marvel villain).
Almost everything in the Pyms’ story sets up Hope as the obvious successor to Pym and I can’t imagine there’s any reason beyond standard Hollywood sexism that she isn’t. There’s certainly room for Lang, but only in the same way that there’s room for Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China, the man who thinks he’s the hero but demonstrably isn’t. Instead, Hope is pushed aside, and the film is markedly less interesting as a result.
So, this isn’t a bad film. It’s worth watching. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s low-key, doesn’t tax the brain, is visually inventive and charming enough when it tries and if you look past the structural sexism. But I can’t see myself ever watching it again; like Iron-Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World, Ant-Man is an inessential piece.