But for the most part, Kang’s menace is conveyed through an uncharacteristically hammy performance by Majors. He seems to be channeling post-1970s Marlon Brando performances where Brando was being fed lines through an earpiece or reading them off notecards taped to other actors’ costumes. Sometimes he’ll pause forever between words in a line while staring into space, or look up, or to the side, as if the next thought might be lurking over there. One element that does intrigue: Kang seems deeply, furiously sad, in a way that echoes one of the most powerful lines from “The Sopranos,” “Depression is anger turned inward.”
Eventually, the movie succumbs to the MCU formula and devotes its last act to a lot of overly busy CGI battles, with things crashing into other things and exploding and disintegrating while people yell about having to save the universe. Sometimes the movie overdoes the self-awareness in that unfortunate MCU way—such as by having a character confirm that a weird thing just happened by saying, “That was weird,” or announce that another character is cool, both of which happen here. But the film’s low-stress, low-stakes attitude saves it.
Serenely untroubled by pressures to break box office records or win Oscars, the Ant-Man films seem content to be clever entertainments with heart, but not so much that they become cloying. From the size jokes to the running gags to the casting of Rudd, who has spent his career behaving as if he’s a random regular guy who stumbled into stardom and finds it all quite silly, the series manages to be light but not inconsequential, whether a given scene is tenderhearted (anything involving Scott and Cassie) or cheerfully deranged (the climatic fight at the end of the first movie atop a Thomas the Tank Engine train set). Ant-Man is officially a member of the MCU’s starting lineup, the Avengers, but feels like a replacement player who gets a text when Thor calls in sick. This new movie validates Scott’s not-quite-insecurity (he’s not deep enough to be existentially tormented) by having him get mistaken for other superheroes. He takes it in stride. Two films ago, he got fired from Baskin-Robbins, and before that, he was in jail. Happiness, like size, is a matter of perspective.
In theaters Friday, February 17.