Just when it seemed like the Marvel Cinematic Universe was getting so big that the whole superhero-movie bubble might burst, along comes an adventure that’s told on a much smaller scale. Put it this way: the first action sequence in 'Ant-Man' takes place in a bathtub, and while ultimately this film is too bland to leave much of an impression, at least it's still a much-needed reminder that there are people underneath all that spandex.
Based on a comic character that first appeared in 1962, 'Ant-Man' tells the origin story of a sweet-natured thief named Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Incapable of holding a job but determined to pay child support for his daughter, Lang re-teams with his old crew (a trio fronted by the great Michael Pena). Their first score, however, turns out to be a scheme concocted by scientist Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), inventor of a top-secret particle capable of shrinking ordinary objects down to insect-size. Ousted from his own technology company by evil protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll, essentially channelling Jeff Bridges’s bald villain from ‘Iron Man’), Hank needs a skilled-but-expendable stooge to break into his old lab and steal some vital research before it falls into the wrong hands.
Rudd’s affable wit makes him a perfect choice for the part. But his performance is uncharacteristically inhibited, as if he felt there was too much at stake to try something new. Even the jokes that do work leave some laughs on the table, and the impulse to play things safe proves emblematic of a film that shrinks in the face of a challenge. While 'Ant-Man' borrows from the likes of 'Inception' and 'Ocean’s Eleven', its heist elements are reduced to window-dressing.
Director Peyton Reed – who replaced 'Shaun of the Dead' director Edgar Wright just weeks before shooting began – deserves credit for jumping aboard a speeding train, but his inoffensive finished product proves that Marvel is more interested in protecting the house style than making great movies. Ironically, it doesn’t really matter if a superhero is big enough to punch Thor or small enough to squeeze through a keyhole: when it comes to Marvel movies, one size fits all.