There's a scene in Ant-Man where our shrunken hero must do tiny battle with our shrunken villain inside a falling briefcase filled with the usual detritus of a briefcase. Only this time all that junk, including the iPhone, is giant. As the two face off, trying to gain leverage in what is essentially a small zero-gravity chamber, the villain, played by Corey Stoll, delivers the usual unhinged bad guy banter, threatening Ant-Man with "disintegration!" That's when the iPhone kicks on and Siri says, "Now playing 'Disintegration' by the Cure," and Robert Smith's opus of sadness swells into being with the magnificence of a full orchestra as the two fight. It's one of the few moments when Ant-Man transcends the predictability of the superhero genre with something creative and unexpected. And it's also a moment that reminds us that, yes, this movie was once in the hands of that avowed goth fanboy, Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright.
In the context of the rest of the Marvel universe, Ant-Man's not bad. It's funny and the action is cool, and all the size-play stuff is a blast. But it's not an oh-my-God-you-have-to-see-this movie either. It's good, while being bland enough to make me really wish I could see the Edgar Wright version.
Director Peyton Reed had the unenviable task of picking up where Wright left off when he and Marvel decided they no longer saw eye-to-eye on the movie. He's done a fine job, but it's impossible to know how much of the film was already there waiting for him, how much was dictated by Marvel, and how much he added.
Marvel's latest hero is Scott Lang, a thief played by Paul Rudd who becomes Ant-Man after he semi-accidentally steals a super-powered suit from the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas. Pym hand-picks Lang after following his exploits in the news. Lang is a thief, yes, but in the age of Wall Street buyouts, he's a modern Robin Hood who stuck it to the Man by breaking into a secure facility to send billions of dollars back to ripped off consumers. And as if he didn't have enough going for him in the pathos department, Lang's a nice guy just trying to go straight so he can see his daughter.
The nice guy routine comes easily to Rudd, who has charm to spare, and he lays it on thick here. He doesn't commit robberies. He commits non-violent burglaries. He doesn't gloat when he bests an Avenger. He apologizes profusely. And he never seems to get angry, especially when it's more fun to crack a one-liner than to Hulk out.
For her part, Evangeline Lilly gets underplayed mercilessly as Pym's cold corporate daughter, Hope van Dyne. She's clearly got a place in the Marvel universe, but you get the sense that producers want to keep her talent as secret as her future in the Marvel world. Just like most Marvel movies though, this roster is stacked, and even though he's playing a parody of a stereotype, Michael Pena still manages to steal the spotlight occasionally as one of Lang's disreputable buddies..
In all, Ant-Man is pretty good. It ranks somewhere in the middle of Marvel movies, which is still better than most of what you'll get in the theater. As a concept, Ant-Man is almost inherently silly, and Rudd knows just how to strike a balance between being a joke and being a hero.