review round-up

What Critics Are Saying About Ant-Man

Photo: Zade Rosenthal/Marvel Studios/Disney Enterprises

This post first ran last week, when the reviews of the movie just started to come in. It has been updated in anticipation of the film’s opening this weekend.

Da da da da da da da da — Ant-Man? 
The latest film in Marvel’s ever-expanding universe, Ant-Man, starring Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, and Corey Stoll, will hit cinemas this weekend. The reviews have rolled in, and the opinions on the superhero-heist extravaganza are mixed, although generally skewed more toward the positive “good, campy fun” side. Vulture’s David Edelstein writes, “The best thing about Marvel’s Ant-Man is that despite a computer-effects team larger than the population of Scandinavia, it plays like a charmingly tacky jet-suit robot picture for kids, the kind Japan used to churn out every week for a couple of thousand yen. It doesn’t have that familiar Marvel bloat.” Some constants that seem to have made their way into each review: Rudd’s naturally charismatic and charming leading-man demeanor, Michael Peña’s scene-stealing portrayal of a zany ex-con who’s friends with Ant-Man, and a deep longing to know how the original director, the Cornetto Trilogy’s Edgar Wright, would’ve fared if he didn’t leave the film over “creative differences” last year. Read on for what more of the critics are saying.

Ant-Man isn’t much more than pleasant (Peyton Reed directs limply), but anything Marvel that doesn’t feel Marvel-ish makes me smile. My favorite moment is when Douglas has to comment acidly on something that happened in The Avengers: Age of Ultron and stumbles over the words — he can’t get them out and is visibly distressed. If that was the take they used, what were the others like? Maybe he started screaming “F— the %^&%# Avengers! I won’t plug your dumbass convoluted %^&%# universe!” and left on a gurney.” – David Edelstein, New York Magazine

“The Marvel Cinematic Universe can be an awfully big, noisy and repetitive place to spend your time and money, but at its best, it can also allow for humor, whimsy and lightness of spirit — all qualities that come into play in ‘Ant-Man,’ a winningly modest addition to the ever-expanding Disney/Marvel family…The refreshingly (and literally) down-to-earth scale of ‘Ant-Man’ is largely a factor of Rudd’s charming performance as the nicest, most boy-next-door cat burglar imaginable — a most unlikely superhero who, despite his newfound abilities and washboard abs, refuses to take himself or his endeavors too seriously.” —Justin Chang, Variety

“If you don’t have Thor’s hammer, Hulk’s bulk, Captain America’s resolve or Iron Man’s know-how, what’s an Avenger to do? The answer provided by Ant-Man is to go small, smaller than Black Widow’s fingernail, and exude a good sense of humor, which is precisely what floats this latest addition to the Marvel cinematic firmament… Although the story dynamics are fundamentally silly and the family stuff, with its parallel father-daughter melodrama, is elemental button-pushing, a good cast led by a winning Paul Rudd puts the nonsense over in reasonably disarming fashion.” —Todd McCartney, The Hollywood Reporter

“Ant-Man is a cut-and-shut muddle, haunted by a ghost, produced by a high-end hot dog factory, by turns giddying and stupefying. Watching it is like channel-surfing between Hot Fuzz, a duff early 90s Michael Douglas drama and the very schlockiest bits of Interstellar.” —Catherine Shoard, The Guardian

“As a would-be witty heist movie, ‘Ant-Man’ tries to embrace the tropes of the genre— the botched exercises, the bickering, the amusing test-runs that fail— but the movie often lands on the familiar, playing more like a greatest hits collection of heist touchstones rather than a clever update. Tonally and spiritually, ‘Ant-Man’ resembles the first ‘Iron Man’ film, playfully glib, but with a light-on-its-feet touch that is also slightly goofy. But the movie’s mood vacillates, sometimes resembling one of the pre-’Iron Man’ super hero movies of the early aughts (it’s not quite 2005 ‘Fantastic Four’ broad, but it’s a little corny), especially in the finding-its-footing first half.” —Rodrigo Perez, Indiewire

“Playfully funny, visually engaging and altogether relevant to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-Man will be some people’s favorite Marvel film — in particular kids, who finally have a shrinking movie of their own. The trick of any Marvel production is getting the humor tuned just right — and there’s funny crawling all over Ant-Man. Movies like Avengers: Age of Ultron sprinkle in humorous beats to counterbalance nihilism. But Ant-Man is instead flecked with bits of melodrama, which are necessary to the story even if they tend to interrupt the fun.  Jokes and sight gags are where Ant-Man exceeds all Marvel movies — and Marvel couldn’t have been any clearer in that mission, casting comedy everyman Paul Rudd as Scott Lang and handing the film over to Peyton Reed (Yes Man, Bring It On, The Break Up) to direct after Edgar Wright dropped out of the project.” —Josh Dickey, Mashable

“Here’s some real talk: this set-up is dumb. The whole concept of an insect-sized superhero is dumb. The idea of said superhero using mental telepathy to get ants to do his bidding (yes, he does this) is insanely dumb. But Ant-Man knows it’s dumb. Rudd and Anchorman’s Adam McKay rewrote the script after Edgar Wright left the project, and what they’ve constructed is a movie that knows just how skeptical people are going to be, and gets around the problem by winking at nearly every major trope we’ve come to expect from superhero movies… Self-aware blockbusters certainly aren’t new; Phil Lord and Chris Miller have built their career with projects like The Lego Movie, and Jurassic World is using its anti-blockbuster sentiment to beat every record in the book. But unlike those movies, there’s nothing callous or cynical in Ant-Man. Like most Paul Rudd comedies, it’s powered by his goofy, good-guy sentimentality, and whether he was facing off against a surprise guest star or gawking as Peña nailed yet another punchline, I found myself filled with something that’s become a rather rare commodity in superhero movies: joy.” —Bryan Bishop, The Verge

“Disappointingly, but perhaps inevitably, Reed never makes the movie his own; much of Ant-Man plays like Reed is just trying to make sense of the notes Wright left behind. (The script is credited to Wright, Joe Cornish, Rudd, and Anchorman director Adam McKay.) And while there are some inspired moments to be found, overall the film is slapped-together; not bad, certainly, but rushed and inarticulate. Jokes never quite hit their punch lines; plot strands are clunky and un-nuanced (even for Marvel). Without any real point of view animating the film, it’s hard to get a sense of why we’re watching this sideline diversion from the larger Avengers narrative. Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s other Avengers-adjacent weird comedy, gleefully flung us far, far away, to a realm where comparisons to other Marvel movies became almost moot. Ant-Man hews much too closely, while still trying to be different, and ends up looking less like a delightfully oddball relative and more like an also-ran.” —Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

“Familiar notions like ‘Doing This for My Daughter,’ ‘I Was a Distant Parent, For My Child’s Own Good,’ and ‘When Someone Says “Don’t Press That Button” in Act One…’ get trotted out in a most listless fashion. Not that the other Marvel movies haven’t relied on familiar plot turns, but ‘Ant-Man’ doesn’t provide enough dazzle camouflage to cover its tracks. The supposedly humorous sidekicks are grating, the love interest (Evangeline Lilly in a Louise Brooks bob and matching power pantsuits) generates zero sparks, and while the climactic battle spawns a memorable sight gag or two, the emotional stakes are never such that the eventual big showdown will have anyone gripping their armrests.” —Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

“For moviegoers whose knowledge of the Marvel universe doesn’t extend to its second-tier pantheon of superheroes, the thought of a microscopic do-gooder in a microscopic suit and mask may sound a bit, well, ridiculous. Neither super nor particularly heroic. But Peyton Reed’s late-summer comic-book caper, Ant-Man, should uncock a lot of skeptically raised eyebrows. Watching Paul Rudd, reduced to the size of a dust mite, zipping around with his six-legged army of mind-controlled insects and sneaking into tight, top-secret spots, it suddenly makes sense why being tiny might be as advantageous as being the size of the Hulk.” —Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly

“The film plays out very much like a heist movie, which makes for a well-paced plot, building up to an exciting third act. It manages to mix the suaveness of movies like Ocean’s Eleven and classic X-Men nerdiness in its presentation, making it feel like a indulgently cheesy comic book movie and not simply an action-packed explosive spectacle. In layman’s terms, it’s not afraid to go ‘classic superhero’. There’s no overly dramatic swelling theme every time the good guy appears on screen here, yet it retains that level of excitement throughout.” —Amy West, International Business Times

“Director Peyton Reed—who replaced Shaun of the Dead’s 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.” —David Ehrlich, Time Out

“The ‘Ant-Man’ we have now before us, half-an-inch tall and played by genial, skillful Paul Rudd, turns out to be better company than you’d think possible in a multi-strand franchise lousy with corporate directives. The plot’s the same old thing. Mad, mad, mad, mad science; imminent apocalypse; parent/child issues; blah blah blaggidy blah. The tone of ‘Ant-Man,’ however, is relatively light and predominantly comic. Those who feel they need a break from the numbing destruction of the “Avengers”/”Captain America” movies will likely enjoy it. “Ant-Man” is a frisky hybrid — part “Land of the Giants,” part heist film a la ‘11 Harrowhouse,’ but with Rudd leading an army of ants against the villain, Yellowjacket, played by the excellent character actor Corey Stoll.” —Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

“We may not need another hero, but true believers don’t need to shrink-ray their expectations. Ant-Man is the first Marvel film — and the first of this summer’s pixels-go-kablooey time-wasters — to get better as it goes. The filmmakers save their biggest, wiggiest ideas for the climaxes, where they wittily reduce the pageantry of destruction to HO scale: In one of many third-act dustups, our hero faces off against the latest Marvel tech-gone-wrong baddy on an architect’s model of a building. (It suffers the fate of Man of Steel’s Metropolis.)… For non-devotees of the comic-book film, Ant-Man is decidedly a glass-half-empty situation. But fans won’t care: That glass is also half-awesome, and that’s enough.” —Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice

“The great ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ was proof that sometimes Marvel can take even their quirkiest, most marginal characters and build a terrific movie around them. And ‘Ant-Man’ is proof that sometimes they can’t. I’m not looking to start any flame wars with fans who’ve always loved the little guy, but face it — he wasn’t exactly Iron Man, just made for a big-screen adventure. I mean, remember the classic ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit, when it was a superhero party — and poor Garrett Morris’s Ant-Man got dissed at every turn? The makers of ‘Ant-Man’ clearly do, which is why they’ve approached the story with humor. Based on the superhero’s late-’70s incarnation, Edgar Wright’s original script (with Joe Cornish) has been rewritten by star Paul Rudd (with Adam McKay), and although the film doesn’t turn the character into a joke, you never have to wait more than a minute or two for the next gag. It’s an understandable approach, but as a result, there’s not much at stake here, emotionally. The truly great Marvel superheroes struggle with hubris. Ant-Man mostly panics and yells and falls down a lot.” —Stephen Whitty, Newark Star Ledger

“In its very best moments, the film zings with an Aardman-esque zaniness that feels like pure Wright, even if his replacement as director, Peyton Reed, wisely resists the temptation to mimic his predecessor’s hyper-caffeinated visual style. But Ant-Man’s troubled genesis barely registers in the finished product. The strain only tells in its unusually blocky structure, which more or less comprises a long, funny, inventive training montage followed by a long, funny, inventive heist. (Michael Peña, who’s uproariously goofy as a member of Scott’s cat-burgling crew, almost walks away with both.) … What we’ve seen since the beginnings of the Marvel serial in 2008 is an ongoing stretching: bigger casts, grander set-pieces and more intricate interplay between characters, with no clear end in sight. Ant-Man scuttles off in the other direction. Brisk humour, keenly felt dramatic stakes, and invention over scale. You know: small pleasures.”  —Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph

“As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, ‘A great man is always willing to be little.’ Great movies should be, too. Ant-Man, the latest from Marvel Studios, seems aware of our current blockbusted summer. For its riff on the heist movie, the comic-to-movie factory scales down the blueprints to stage action in the nooks and crannies of its ‘cinematic universe.’ Ant-Man dares to give Paul Rudd’s character, Scott Lang, a personal investment in the adventure (he’s a jail dad looking to make good with his daughter), dares to make jokes at its own expense, and dares to set its grand finale on the train tracks of a Thomas the Tank Engine play set — epic, when your hero’s only a half-inch tall. Ant-Man is not a great film, but its low-angle perspective shakes up the standard. That a Transformer could squash Rudd’s goofy hero with a misplaced step makes it all the more watchable.” —Matt Patches, Esquire

“Besides being a breezy superhero heist movie, Ant-Man is the latest in a succession of shrinking-people movies which have shown off state-of-the-art effects at the time of production — worthy successor to the likes of The Devil-Doll, The Incredible Shrinking Man and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. In brilliantly realised moments, Ant-Man clings to the grooves of a vinyl record, feeds a drop of water to his favourite ant, explores the infinitely small (a genuinely cool 3D trip) and has a climactic confrontation with an equally miniaturised baddie in an out-of-control Thomas The Tank Engine tabletop layout which seems huge and dangerous to them, though a witty shot pulls back to show the frenetic action-movie fireworks just boil down to a toy train falling over.” —Kim Newman, Empire

“Directed by the comedy specialist Peyton Reed (’Bring It On,’ ‘The Break-Up,’ ‘Yes Man’) from a script credited to Edgar Wright, Adam McKay, Joe Cornish and Paul Rudd (who stars), this film is a passable piece of drone work from the ever-expanding Marvel-Disney colony. It provides obligatory, intermittently amusing links to other corporate properties, serving essentially as a sidebar to the ‘Avengers’ franchise. Like ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ last year’s off-brand Marvel hit, ‘Ant-Man’ dabbles in the bright, playful colors of the superhero spectrum, reveling in moments of cartoonish whimsy and smirky humor … The most ingenious sequence comes near the end, during a climactic battle between two miniaturized dudes, which toggles between their perspective and that of normal-size people. What appears to the combatants to be a noisy, screen-filling, no-holds-barred struggle looks, at human scale, like a minor disturbance in a room full of toys. Perhaps this is a metaphor: Trapped inside this big movie is a small one, trying to get out. – A.O. Scott, New York Times

“The Marvel movie juggernaut has been chugging along so smoothly now for so long that it was beginning to seem that it could take any old idea and turn it into a satisfying blockbuster. Eleventh-century Nordic god reimagined as hunky extraterrestrial? Sure. World War II pulp hero defrosted in the 21st century? Why not? When last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy pulled off the ridiculous twofer of a talking raccoon and an ambulatory houseplant, it officially felt like Marvel Studios might be incapable of failure. With Ant-Man, however, Marvel seems finally to have met its match. The premise—a superhero who can make himself tiny and talk to ants — was tricky enough to begin with. But the picture appears, ultimately, to have been undone less by premise than by process. Ant-Man isn’t a bad movie so much as a highly uneven one, one that manages the principal tiny-hero challenge adequately—there are echoes throughout of every shrinking movie ever made — but stumbles in small ways with regularity.” – Christopher Orr, The Atlantic

“Though people getting taken down to tiny size is familiar to moviegoers from films like ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ and ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,’ one of the things that makes ‘Ant-Man’ special is, well, the computer-generated ants. For, once he gets the knack of using it, one of Scott’s powers as ‘Ant-Man’ is a helmet that makes him a certified ant whisperer, someone who can make these loyal, brave and industrious insects his full partners in the exploits he undertakes. These are not just the garden variety of ant you might come across at a picnic. Ant-Man forms close ties with the architecturally inclined fire ants, winged and dangerous carpenter ants, wacky crazy ants, even the perilous bullet ants, whose bite is described as ‘No. 4 on the Schmidt pain index,’ which sounds pretty bad. These little guys are such great team players that after you see this film, you’ll never be tempted to squash one of them again.” – Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times