I can't shake the feeling that there is a body of opinion that is waiting for Marvel Studios to screw up. On the critics side, it seems to be the usual sort of critic that doesn't like big summer blockbuster season by it's very nature, and sees the MCU as a sort of poster-child for it. On the audience side, I think there is a relic of the DC-Marvel rivalry (the longest and stupidest fan-rivalry in comics, which is saying something) and also a wariness at seeing about 2 billion superhero flicks scheduled and feeling some odd obligation to see them all. Wherever it comes from, it seemed to circle Guardians of the Galaxy last year, before that turned out to be huge, and then focused on Ant-Man, after some high-profile behind-the-scenes changes and y'know, being about Ant-Man. Who is small, and commands the Ants.
Ant-Man hits the screen, then, with a lot of baggage. I guess we'd all have been interested on what an Edgar Wright (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, etc) would have put out, but instead we get what his long-gestating project turned into after rewrites and a new Director (Peyton Reed). The character also has a lot of baggage - Hank Pym (Micheal Douglas) was a very early Marvel character, and a founding Avenger along with his wife Janet van Dyne/Wasp but never really florished, and certainly never lived down a plot line that turned into a villainous wife-beater. His successor, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), is therefore the MCU's Ant-Man, with a daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lily), clearly set up to be the MCU's Wasp.
On the face of it, Ant-Man is a heist movie, with reformed con Lang being roped in by Pym to steal back his shrinking technology from a dodgy ex-protege who is about to sell it to the highest bidder. Like a lot of the Marvel films, it wears the heist element as a stylistic skin, giving texture and flavour to the underlying familiar structure rather than being a "proper" heist movie with the sort of intricate plotting they tend to have. It leads to some fun sequences, especially with the shrunk-down ant-led infliltration, but ultimatley its all going to end in a hero-vs-villian showdown, albeit one that is great to watch, as it rains down the usual epic destruction against a series of models and toys. It feels like it's trying to deconstruct the superhero genres current obsession with blowing up cities whilst still getting the feel of it, which is pretty clever.
But at heart, this is a film with pretty small stakes, and I liked that about it. Hank wants to keep his technology safe, and reconnect with his daughter. Scott wants to go straight, to gain rights to be part of his daughters life too. Hope wants to understand why her father pushed her away at the lowest point in their lives. Cross, the villian - really just wants recognition of his genius. No-one is going to drop a city on anyone, and the worst destruction outside of the villians corporation is to a chunk of roofing. That said, it is all a little underdone, especially around Hope, who feels at times like a holdover of Wright's work, which (for me, at least) is notoriously weak around female characters. The promise of more for her to do in future is very welcome.
In the final analysis, I don't think Ant-Man is a great film, nor is it in any way a poor film. It's breezy and funny and charming, and wears it connections to the wider MCU easily, using them when it needs to and not worrying when it doesn't. It's got some moments that really light it up, and nothing really that I feel inclined to criticise it for, but at the same time I don't think it's manages to reach the top-tier that Marvel Studios are capable of putting out. I think it says something about the time we are living in that a film like Ant-Man is, in effect, an average superhero movie, something that delivers exactly what it sets out to, a solidly entertaining and distinctive couple of hours down your local multiplex.
Apparently Compulsary Grading of MCU films:
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
Captain America; The First Avenger
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Iron Man 3
Thor: The Dark World
Iron Man 2
The Incredible Hulk