Peyton Reed’s “Ant Man,” the next film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), is both a pleasant surprise and kind of frustrating. On the one hand, there are some clever aspects, and we’re introduced to a new character that serves as a nice change of pace for MCU superheroes and for a franchise that’s beginning to get increasingly bland in terms of story and character. On the other hand, the movie is kind of a mess. With the script being penned by four people (Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and Paul Rudd), the film feels overcrowded. The final product is somewhat hindered by derivative plot points and superfluous characters.
What “Ant Man” has going for it is the bizarre factor. Burglar Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is recruited by Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, who looks like he’s having a ball) to don a red leather suit that allows him to shrink down to the size of an ant. Along with that, he can control actual ants using his mind. Lang also gets his own carpenter ant that he can ride around on, and we see him putting little metal helmets on about a hundred ants so he can command them in battle like a strange, little Gen. Patton.
Rudd is his usual likable self. If you’ve seen any of his films before, then you’ve seen his performance here, which works in “Ant Man’s” favor. It’s as if his schlubby everyman character from “This is 40” was suddenly thrust into the world of Marvel superheroes. It’s an unusual combination that’s pulled off.
Our hero’s super-small size also gives the action sequences a much-needed change in perspective. The underwhelming San Francisco setting is given extra dimension: An everyday bathtub becomes a threatening, awe-inspiring wave simulator. The first time Lang shrinks down he goes on a wild ride on the floor of his apartment, in between the mammoth stomping feet of people at a party and eventually out onto the chaotic streets. The scene is disorienting and exhilarating — maybe the first truly thrilling action sequence in an MCU movie.
Furthermore, the lighting-fast way in which Lang switches back and forth between his ant size and normal size to fight baddies makes for a nice alternative to the muscular man-on-man “destruction everywhere” melee we’re usually exposed to.
The main problem with “Ant Man” is the over-plotting and unnecessary, one-dimensional characters. The main villain, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), is frustratingly one-note. Within five minutes of meeting him, his menace is already turned up to 11.
There’s a redemption side plot between Lang and his young daughter and Pym and his grown-up daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly). Both are poorly developed and because of the movie’s commitment to comedy, neither relationship resonates very deeply.
Bobby Cannavale’s role as a police officer could have been axed entirely without any effect, and Michael Pena, as Lang’s friend, can be funny, but even his dimwitted sidekick shtick begins to wear thin.
Additionally, the ending is a tedious drag, which is frustrating, considering the rest of the movie moves along so quickly. Similar to “Man of Steel,” there are about four different climaxes: a heist, a fight, another fight and yet another fight. There’s good stuff in each one, but there’s simply too much.
“Ant Man” certainly surpassed my low expectations, turning out to be far more bizarre and entertaining. Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz”) was originally tapped to direct the film but left due to creative differences; yet, you can definitely see traces of his influence in some of the gags, the frenzied editing and quick pacing. Reed (who directed “Yes Man”) clearly doesn’t have the same comedic panache as Wright, but as a director brought on at the last minute he does a competent job. In the end, it’s the script that needs more fine-tuning and editing.
(Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.)