The Marvel Cinematic Universe is, to this point, an entirely well-liked series of films by most people, myself included, which makes is rather painful to finally, after seven years of watching even the worst of these films be very good, watch as a Marvel Studios movie is legitimately bad.
Ant-Man is basically the story of ex-con Scott Lang, played by Paul Rudd, trying to pay his child support so he can see his daughter. After failing to find any kind of reliable source of income due to his criminal record, he decides that the only way to make the money is to go back to his life of crime by burgling a wealthy old man's house, only to find that the safe he was hoping to break into didn't have any money, but, instead, only had an old suit that he soon discovers to have the power to shrink the person wearing it. He quickly gets roped into a much larger conflict surrounding corporate greed and espionage on a grand scale. The plot on its own sounds like any of the Phase 1 Marvel Cinematic Universe films--which makes sense, as it was originally intended to be released in that period--but everything about it seems painfully artificial in its execution. The characters are all written with one personality trait each, with Scott being the essential "charmingly irreverent" main character that seems to star in every comedy these days, as well as Hank Pym, the mentor figure who exists entirely to spout expository dialogue and vague encouragements, and Hank's daughter, Hope, the initially disdainful love interest to Scott who spends most of the film criticizing him until she gradually falls in love, following the same arc that every romantic subplot has in modern cinema. None of these characters get fleshed out beyond these basic foundations of personalities outside of very brief moments that attempt at being emotional concerning characters who we don't know and their relationships with other characters who we don't know. A connection simply cannot be formed between the audience and a character is written with such broad strokes as to be less of a character and more of a cold reading for the people watching to instantly find themselves in.
However, any action-comedy would be good even without endearing characters as long as it is successful as an action film or a comedy, and Ant-Man simply could not entertain me on any level. The action sequences, while well-choreographed and suitably fast-paced, were all full of some frankly hideous CGI that, though detailed, always looked oddly stiff and lethargic, trapping much of the film in a deep Uncanny Valley that Marvel Studios have, up to this point, deftly avoided. Even beyond the effects themselves, though, there is the equally noticeable issue of its trite, uninspired set-pieces that any movie with the concept of a shrinking man would use purely because they are the obvious choices. There is an early sequence in which Scott shrinks himself and begins stumbling around in his bathtub, eventually falling into a crowded party, being sucked into a vacuum cleaner, and attacked by a now-giant rat. The climactic final battle between Scott and the film's villain is set on a child's playset. I do not ask any film to constantly break new ground; I simply ask that it not waste its and the audience's time on the most obvious set-ups imaginable.
Even more depressing, however, is the empty humor that the film is constantly full of, almost entirely built around clichéd sight gags that all cut away instantly following the punch line--not an inherently bad joke, mind you, but, like any good joke, ruined by its ad nauseum repetition--and awkward timing from the film's lead in serious situations, a joke that only serves as the foundation of a good joke that is instead presented as a piece of hilarity in and of itself. That these two jokes were all the film had to really go on made each scene drag on endlessly as it set up a joke that is impossible not to see coming a mile away from sheer quantity. Even the few jokes that aren't entirely based around these two formulae are almost entirely mindless pop culture references, such as a brief sequence in which music by The Cure starts playing through a line of dialogue that was so blatantly to set up this joke that it could not possibly have been a surprise to anyone, or the painful Baskin Robbins product placement found early in the film in which, after Scott gets fired from the store after his criminal record gets discovered, every character seems to use the line "Baskin Robbins always finds out," as a catch phrase, built entirely around that obnoxiously self-aware, winking-to-the-camera style of product placement that even Seinfeld couldn't pull off well despite being a much better comedy than this. The entire sense of humor of this film feels like it was entirely the product of focus testing and market testing from a corporate machine trying to figure out what the essential 18-34 target audience likes without any actual understanding of why they like it.
Now, of course, there is an elephant in the room. Director Peyton Reed was not the person originally chosen to direct Ant-Man, nor was he really a great choice, in hindsight. The film was originally going to be directed by Edgar Wright, most known for his work with the beloved Cornetto Trilogy and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, as well as cult television series Spaced. However, both Edgar Wright and Marvel Studios agreed that he was not the right choice--not, mind you, because Edgar Wright was not the rich choice for an ¬Ant-Man film, but, rather, because he was not the right choice for a Marvel Cinematic Universe film. Edgar Wright's vision for the movie was essentially to make it a stand-alone work that would be tied into the overarching universe later, like the Phase 1 films that this was meant to be released alongside, those being Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger. However, Marvel wanted this movie to tie into the rest of the movies directly, leading to totally unneeded references to the other films in the franchise, most notably in a fight scene with Falcon from The Avengers that ultimately adds nothing to the film that couldn't have been removed. This kind of obvious pacing issue makes it abundantly clear that Marvel Studios essentially wants people to need to see everything they make for any of it to be comprehensible. It's a cheap marketing ploy that is surrounded by films making legitimate works of art out of it, but, when an artificial shell of a movie arrives with the same goal, it stops being impressive and just reveals itself for the pettiness that it secretly is. Perhaps I'm just becoming jaded, but watching this film really just depressed me more than anything else.