Marvel has a big problem. Its formula for success has been beaten and bashed more than one of its second-rate villains featured in any number of its recent movies. And although Chris Pratt breathed some new life into series with last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy, every other entry in the “Phase 2” of Marvel films (that’s every film since 2012’s The Avengers) has left a lot to be desired, as the film franchise has begun to show major signs of creative fatigue. Enter Ant-Man (now in theaters), the latest chapter in the canon to suffer from the growing condition I like to call Marvel-itis. Symptoms include reluctant heroes, goofy side-kicks, lame villains and a need to try to create direct carbon copies of other, better films that have come before. Sadly, we are not helping the cure by flooding theaters every time a new chapter is unveiled. In fact, we may be the root cause as to why these films may never find a cure.
Ant-Man is the smallest hero and also the worst film Marvel has coughed up thus far. Stop me if you’ve heard any of these plot points before (you have, trust me you have). Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang, a cat burglar who is trying to go clean after being released from prison, mainly because he has an estranged daughter he would like to know. His silly burglar-buddy Luis (Michael Pena) gets him involved in “one last job” and he decides to go along with it, desperately needing the money (there goes his whole “going clean” routine, out the window after about 10 minutes). The job involves busting into the home of renowned and reclusive scientist Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) because they learn he has a big safe in his basement. Lang finds more than he bargained for though, when he discovers a special suit that Pym created, that can shrink its wearer to the size of an ant, also increasing the wearer’s density and power.
As it turns out, Pym had orchestrated the break-in all along, choosing Lang as the perfect dispensable candidate to wear the suit. Pym is wanting to foil the plans of his former apprentice, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), the evil businessman who has taken over Pym’s empire and has developed his own shrink-suit that he calls the Yellowjacket. On Pym’s side is his always disgruntled daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who is working as a double-agent of sorts, since Cross still trusts her completely.
The movie is the most uninteresting and unrealistic comic book movie in recent memory. Even the likeable Rudd can’t save the tone of the film, which tries to be smarmy, clever and self-aware, much like Guardians of the Galaxy, but that mostly falls short of being funny. He isn’t given much to work with, whether its the script (in which he shares a writing credit, having co-doctored – along with Adam McKay – Edgar Wright’s original screenplay), or his fellow actors, none of which stand out or play real people. This is the sort of film that beats you over the head, directly describes what people are saying and doing, and then tries to insert jokes to lighten the mood. The result is a soupy mess of explosions, hollow jokes and exposition.
I usually wait for the end credits of Marvel movies in anticipation of the stinger scenes that come. And there are stinger scenes (two of them). But this time around, it wasn’t the stinger scenes that had me excited. It was that I got to leave the theater.
Marvel is going to need to re-examine its approach to this franchise…not just Ant-Man, but the entire run of its movies based on its comic books. I can only hope that there is good in the world, and that audiences will one day not accept this level of crap, heaped onto us over and over again. What was once fresh has gone stale. I’m not sure I know the answer, but I know that the answer isn’t more Ant-Man. At the very end of the credits, the words “Ant-Man will return” graced the screen. That, to me, was the biggest stinger of all, and not the good kind.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Science Fiction
Run Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Canavale, Anthony Mackie, Judy Greer, Michael Pena
Directed by Peyton Reed (Yes Man, The Break-Up, Down with Love, Bring It On)
Opens locally on Friday, July 17, 2015 (check for show times).