Rudd's charm makes up for 'Ant-Man's' shortcomings
"Ant-Man" is plenty of fun, a superhero flick with just the right amount of self-awareness.
Its problem is it's "Ant-Man," and it's about a man who shrinks down to the size of, and teams up with, armies of ants.
Alright, let's quickly go down the superhero checklist. Batman's got the Batmobile, Superman can fly, Spider-Man treats cities like they're his own personal jungle gym. And then over here you've got Ant-Man, half an inch tall and hanging out with ants. At the superhero banquet dinner, the guy's definitely at the kid's table.
And ants just aren't very interesting on screen, no matter how they're dressed up. There are numerous sequences in "Ant-Man" where Paul Rudd, who plays the titular cat burglar-turned-superhero, shares the screen with swarms of CGI ants, and giving personalities to those little critters is a problem no amount of computer wizardry can solve. Likewise, it's no easy feat to wrangle excitement out of someone the size of a flea, and try as it might, "Ant-Man" just can't do it. As mighty as Ant-Man is, you still just want to squash him with your foot.
Which is too bad, because otherwise "Ant-Man" hits the right notes. Rudd brings his wry, boyish charm to the role of Scott Lang, who, when the movie opens, is being let out of San Quentin after a three-year bid. He's a non-violent offender, we're reminded several times over, and besides, he's Paul Rudd. He's about as threatening as, well, an ant.
The screenplay — Rudd is one of the writers, along with Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish and Adam McKay — mashes together mad science with family issues (Lang is trying to do right by his young daughter) and a plot to rule the world. You know, typical Marvel Universe fare. But the tone is right, light like "Guardians of the Galaxy" rather than heavy like "Captain America," and the balance between jokes and action sequences keeps it afloat.
Lang comes across the Ant-Man suit during a heist he's lured into by his old pals (including rapper T.I. and scene-stealer Michael Peña). Turns out the suit is the property of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), an ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who discovered a way to shift atoms — or, in layman's terms, to make one's self really, really small. Bad guy Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) had developed his own use for the the technology, and Pym's daughter ("Lost's" Evangeline Lilly) has shifting allegiances. Elsewhere, Bobby Cannavale plays a cop, Judy Greer is Lang's ex-wife, and a lower-level Avenger makes an extended cameo. For a small movie, "Ant-Man" has a lot going on.
Rudd makes it work. There's a scene early on where he shoots a wink to his daughter, and in that split second is everything that makes Rudd so lovable. He's 46 — "Clueless" was 20 years ago! — but he could still pass for 32. He's your pal from college who never changes, your friend's husband who makes dinner parties tolerable, the dude you want to hang out with on weekends.
What he's not is the buff superhero type, and thankfully "Ant-Man" doesn't force him into a mold. It's the suit that has the superpowers, not the man, so we're there to experience the learning curve to all that size-shifting along with Lang. Its when he teams with the ants — or worse, when he talks to them — that it's easy to check out.
Director Peyton Reed ("Bring It On," "Yes Man") stages some fun "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids"-style sequences, including one winner with Thomas the Tank Engine, and he does what he can to elevate Ant-Man from second-tier superhero status. But despite some strong touches, "Ant-Man" feels like a superhero stopgap, something to pass the time while the Avengers are on vacation or the Justice League is at a business retreat.
Rated PG-13: For sci-fi action violence
Running time: 117 minutes