Ant-Man, Marvel's miniature superhero misses the mark

Change of directors for superhero tale leaves critics wondering what might have been

Ant Man
(Image credit: Marvel)

The latest and perhaps oddest superhero film based on a Marvel comic, Ant-Man, has received mixed reviews from critics who have found it both delightful and frustrating.

In recent years, Marvel has had the Midas touch when it comes to movies, churning out hit after hit, from Avengers to Thor and Iron Man, but has it finally run out of luck with its latest diminutive action man?

Ant-Man tells the story of a career cat burglar (Paul Rudd) fresh out of prison, who stumbles upon a suit that miniaturises him to insect-sized form. He is called upon by a reclusive tech genius (Michael Douglas) to carry out a daring heist to prevent a militarised version of the suit falling into evil hands.

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The film, directed by Peyton Reed (Yes Man), has had a rocky journey. Originally British director Edgar Wright, best known for his comedy fanboy films Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim Vs the World, was slated to direct, but he left the project, which he had been developing for eight years, after "creative differences" with Marvel studios.

This has prompted many critics and fans who are unhappy with the film, to wonder what might have been.

In The Guardian, Catherine Shoard writes that Ant-Man is "haunted by the ghost" of Edgar Wright. The film is muddled, she says, "produced by a high-end hot dog factory", and "by turns giddying and stupefying".

Shoard adds that watching the film is "like channel-surfing between Hot Fuzz, a duff early 90s Michael Douglas drama and the very schlockiest bits of Interstellar".

Nick Schager in the Daily Beast is similarly unimpressed, declaring Marvel's winning streak over, and calling the film a "flop" and a "bomb". Schager says that Wright seemed like the ideal choice to translate this weird superhero to the screen, since "his whip-smart aesthetics seemed like a natural way to enliven the material".

Without Wright's overarching vision though, Schager says, the film is a rickety hodge-podge of four screenwriting credits, a hackneyed learning-to-be-a-superhero story and a stale heist plot. Even in the heyday of superhero stories, he adds, "it takes more than a Marvel imprint to make a spectacle truly spectacular".

In Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson finds more to like, saying there are moments in Marvel's riskiest comic-book-to-movie adventure, that are "full of sublime, silly fun". Unfortunately, says Lawson, these moments are rare, and "much of Ant-Man plays like Reed is just trying to make sense of the notes Wright left behind".

Yes, the geek world will always wonder what Wright might have done, but it's not a flop, says Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter. The story dynamics are "fundamentally silly", he admits, but "a good cast led by a winning Paul Rudd puts the nonsense over in reasonably disarming fashion".

It's not a big film, says McCarthy, but it's kept afloat by "a good sense of humour". McCarthy adds that the timing might even be right for a film like this after the perceived overkill of the most recent instalment of Avengers.

Ant-Man opens worldwide on 17 July.

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