This film is first and foremost a product of the Marvel machine, which means it’s entertaining and fun but nothing more than set-up for future Ant-Man tales.
The story is smaller than those of Thor and The Avengers based simply on character recognition, but rest assured we’ll see this diminutive character alongside the likes of Captain Rogers and Tony Stark soon enough. First we need to see an origin story, just as we saw with every other major Marvel character. And if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Let’s check off the boxes: a reluctant or unknowing character gains a power or is chosen to be wield a power, the character fumbles around during training sequences, a paper-thin villain is introduced, in the last 30 minutes the hero has a dramatic character moment that alters their arc, and finally they gear up for battle and save the day. On a small scale. Let’s not forget, it takes at least 2 movies before we get to see any actual stakes or a formidable villain.
But again, the purpose of this film is to build towards a larger future. Marvel can’t introduce Ant-Man into their future Avengers movies without setting him up within the universe they’ve created. And they certainly do that in this film, going so far as to have a mini-fight with a lesser Avenger right in the middle of the movie, which turns out to be one of the cooler sequences in the film. I personally enjoy when characters and storylines cross over, and maybe that’s just the inner comic book fan in me saying that. The Avengers films have firmly been ingrained in our culture at this point, and a reference to the super team is made very early in this film so we’re aware that they have similarly affected the world within their cinematic world.
The issue with all these movies is stakes, or lack there of. Every audience member is aware that Scott Lang will accomplish the mission and survive the film, so it must be the job of the director to make sure it’s fun and captivating despite the lack of tension. I would say this film has less tension than most superhero films solely because the villain is so one-dimensional and really poorly written, which is tragic considering the run-time is almost a robust 2 hours. I think writers and directors forget sometimes that the strength of a hero is directly affected by the strength of their adversary. In this case the adversary is, essentially, a douchebag. There are some pretty long stretches of time where he leaves the film as we see the family tensions between the film’s two real stars, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly (taking nothing away from Paul Rudd’s “Scott Lang”, but neither Rudd nor Lang are allowed to be anything more than pawn pieces). The villain pops up sporadically just to remind us who Scott will have to defeat later and to add any layer of tension other than familial drama. You could almost say the film only has a villain because it needs one to function as a comic narrative, not because the story dictates it. The villain doesn’t teach our hero anything, he learns everything his character needs to satisfy his arc from his friends and, sadly, that strips the villain of any narrative resonance. Think of what the Joker means to Batman and how he affects him in The Dark Knight. That doesn’t happen in this film.
Where the film succeeds is in Hank Pym’s (Michael Douglas) backstory as the first Ant-Man, the tension with his daughter, any time Scott puts on the suit, and any time Scott’s trio of cohorts (Michael Peña, T.I., David Dastmalchian) are on-screen. There is ample humor spread over the last hour or so of the film, mostly provided by his three amigos, to go along with the action and the final showdown is cool and fun, even going so far as to poke fun at its own size in a pretty funny Thomas the Tank Engine sequence. Sounds silly, but it’s good stuff.
I won’t go into the Edgar Wright controversy, I’ll just say Peyton Reed made a simply told, entertaining film. The fact that two separate writing and directing crews worked on this at various times surely affected the final product. For what it’s worth, if you see Ant-Man you’ll have a good time.