A customer enters a Baskin-Robbins. Baskin-Robbins’s menu is all the same stuff – globs of frozen sugar presented in different colors. The customer orders a hamburger or something. The cashier is confused. The customer gazes at the menu as he inquires about some other cooked item. The employee is baffled that a customer fails to grasp the purpose of this ice cream store. He calls the customer an idiot and walks away.
Tempting as it is to credit this actual Baskin-Robbins scene from Marvel’s Ant-Man as an example of autocritique, the movie’s generic template-fitting narrative precludes such an interpretation. The movie is the ice cream, vanilla with fruity swirls and a couple sprinkles, situated in a big frozen appliance alongside other vats of corporate-approved flavors. There is a formula to making this shit, and there is an infinite stream of customers flowing by the machines with cash extended and gentle smiles on their faces. The kids are happier to be there than the adults. Very few serious foodies indulge in the chain restaurant’s dessert experience. If someone has the gall to wonder about a more substantive product not on the menu, then that person is stupid and must be insulted & shooed away.
The Ant-Man film was, famously, once an Edgar Wright project. His preproduction vision did not fit the MCU brand, and so the studio transferred his script to a couple of mildly clever, Disney-compliant jokesters and had the back of Wright’s director’s chair re-lettered with the name ‘Peyton Reed,’ whose one enduring contribution to film has been the underrated Bring It On (2000).
Now Reed gets credit for a perfectly adequate job presiding over this $130,000,000 thing. Untold additional millions in promotion, previews, talk show plugs, and banner ads on countless websites, along with the uninspiring yet approbatory critical reception thus far, ensure it will be a profitable success. The percentage of moviegoers who identify as Auteurists was never going to matter; Edgar Wright’s non-involvement is irrelevant. You will pay at least $7 for an Ant-Man 2D matinee ticket, or upwards of $15 to see it in 3D, and even more than that if you demand IMAXification of the tiny insect shenanigans. The product you will see is a by-the-numbers children’s cartoon sitcom adorned with several minutes worth of above-average CG action and a moderately interesting couple of trippy twists in the final 15 minutes. In a couple of years you will again pay these amounts to see the same movie, but by that time there might be, to the excitement of millions of progressive superhero superfans, a glass ceiling shattering female character allowed to don an Ant-Man costume. A whole new scoop of vanilla, but with slightly different color fruit swirls & sprinkles.
The creative basis of an Ant-Man story appears, on paper, to be an appealingly weird one. Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a reluctant recidivist criminal who reluctantly becomes a miniaturized supersoldier who somehow commands armies of ants to help his teammates perform heists and save their neighborhood from greedy evil scientists and warmongering profiteers. Unique techno-nonsense weaponry and an array of Honey I Shrunk The Perspective sequences provide the expected spectacle. Humorous training montages remain a sturdy staple of fantasy action cinema.
Instead of an exciting film worthy of such an odd comic book origin and all this expensive whiz-bangery, the Screenwriting For Common Denominator Blandness demons stepped in and made Ant-Man a pointlessly macguffin-laden, exposition-heavy origin story about redemption, yet another tale of a nice white guy who’s humbly the best at what he does but is treated unfairly by the world as he seeks to reconnect with his daughter.
The less said about the cheesy villain (Corey Stoll), the better. Ant-Man’s comic relief sidekicks (an excruciating as usual Michael Pena; David Dastmalchian with a Russian accent for some reason; T.I. making inroads toward production of his future star vehicle Rubber Band Man) do things like upload viruses to mainframes a la Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day.
An attractive female co-lead (Evangeline Lilly) of course has baseless father (Michael Douglas) issues that may or may not be cathartically resolved through the crucible of crisis during the third act. The writers teamed up with the editor to forget to make her, the one significant woman character, a will-they-or-won’t-they love interest until the final few minutes, so that romantic subplot is somehow both perfunctory for being so obvious and insulting for being so awkwardly purposelessly tacked on. One must assume there was some sexy chemistry-establishing moment cut for time. What a blu ray deleted scene bonus that will be. Yay.
The ending credits include two requisite Marvel content teaser scenes, but the scrolling text of the credits is not accompanied by an original anthem or a pop song. Instead (possibly as a cost-saving measure?) the credits are scored only with several minutes of generic low key tones. Keeping it vanilla with a few meager sprinkles to the end.