Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll
Running time: 115 minutes
Rated: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence
Rank: 2.5 out of 4 stars
The latest entry into the ever-growing world of comic book-inspired movies features one of the smallest heroes in the Marvel Universe.
Paul Rudd plays an ex-con who is recruited to slip into a special suit to become Ant-Man.
The hero is pint-sized, but he packs a full-size punch, a skill needed when a new super villain flies into town.
Studios have millions of dollars to throw at the special effects in comic book-inspired movies, and they have years of background material to base the script. That leaves casting as a key factor in making or breaking a superhero film. And Paul Rudd just wasn’t the right choice.
“Iron Man” wouldn’t have had its wonderfully snarky nature without Robert Downey Jr. and Thor would have been a 98-pound weakling without Chris Hemsworth. Rudd has neither the cutting wit nor cut physique others bring to such roles. He’s a milquetoast romantic comedy escapee who ends up being the biggest thing wrong with “Ant-Man.”
When Rudd slips on the suit, the movie settles into a thrill ride through a massive miniature world. From the ants he commands to the world he inhabits, this part of the film is a knockout. He’s just out of the suit too much.
Rudd doesn’t have the charisma to pull off the are-they-or-aren’t-they sexual chemistry with the tough executive played by Evangeline Lilly, the father-son bonding with the original Ant-Man (Michael Douglas) or to show the toughness of being an ex-con. Rudd looks more like a cosplay third-place contest winner than a real superhero.
It’s sinful that his casting is so far off the mark. Douglas brings a nice solid feeling to the film with his role as the retired hero. And, Lilly is both as smart and alluring as the days she spent “Lost” on television.
Even Corey Stoll, who portrays the bad guy of the tale, keeps his character from becoming a mustache-twirling villain. He’s both convincing in and out of his super suit.
Rudd might have been able to overcome his weaknesses if the final screenplay by Joe Cornish (and a host of others) had been more fluid. The film jerks from light comedy to family drama to superhero tale to slapstick comedy.
Director Peyton Reed tries to piece it together but there’s just no way to make the scenes with Rudd seem like anything more than a rejected “Saturday Night Live” skit. Reed’s best work is when Rudd’s in the costume and working in the world at his tiny size. A simple trip across the floor is filled with perils and pitfalls.
Then the gloves — and suit — come off and the movie slips back into its funk, proving this project would have been better had it been Rudd-erless.
There are some very fun moments in “Ant-Man.” The battle between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket in a child’s room sets up some strong visual moments. They have the kind of wicked comic touch that original screenplay writer Edgar Wright has brought to his other works. He left the project, and it shows in how uneven the tone is from start to finish.
It’s difficult to know if another actor would make “Ant-Man” stronger. A change of performers did prove positive when it came to all of the manifestations of the Hulk.
With Rudd in the starring role, “Ant-Man” is as good as it can get. That means in the world of comic book movies, this one is closer to Ben Affleck’s “Daredevil” than “The Avengers.”