Once again, I took a chance on a superhero movie based on positive buzz from some typically reliable sources. Once again, I just don’t get what they’re so excited about.

There was a time when I might have found this film exhilarating — and it’s worth noting that I’m referring to a time when these assembly-line desserts hadn’t become the main staple of America’s moviegoing diet, served up on an almost weekly basis.

Ant-Man is yet another blockbusting Baskin Robbins ice cream sundae, built from the usual ingredients, with a few idiosyncratic brand-candy toppings to qualify it as the Flavor of the Week. If you approve of the steady diet of Baskin Robbins product being served to you, well, here you go. I realized a long time ago that these servings always leave me feeling the same lingering unpleasantness. The artificial ingredients — vague ideals of good and evil (or, rather good guys and bad guys); generic hero motivations (“I need to be a man for my daughter!”); training montages; an unsettling sense of patriotism based on America’s unhealthy self-appointed-savior-of-the-world status; speeches about power and responsibility; action set pieces; the glorification of an Übermensch ideal that tells us we can solve our problems through steroidal enhancements of some kind; the setting up of a villain for the exhilaration of seeing him destroyed; violently cathartic showdowns; deafening-explosion punctuation marks — are calibrated to produce a sudden sugary rush of adrenalin. The unlikely hero gets the girl, the victory, and the status of Awesome, and then there are the credits with a teaser for next week’s Flavor of the Week (to keep us coming back in the hopes of something more and better). This almost always sends me crashing into a sense of vague disappointment, even regret, and a lingering feeling of hollowness… a sense that a weakness of mine has been exploited.

Ant-Man — featuring just enough Michael Peña to make you wish he'd been the lead.
Ant-Man — featuring just enough Michael Peña to make you wish he’d been the lead.

Ant-Man is exactly that: the same tepid, timeworn routine with a few chocolate sprinkles of “fun” on top. Sorry, but three or four minutes of unconventional goofiness or cleverness do not make the other 100 minutes any less methodical and disappointingly familiar.

I’m trying not to hold the absence of Edgar Wright against this film — a true mad scientist who would have cooked up something surprising. His departure from the project might have been a sign that he wasn’t following the Baskin Robbins formula. But what’s really hard to believe is that this factory product ame from the same wild imagination that served up Down With Love. (Now that was a dessert full of substantial surprises.)

Even Ant-Man’s cast seems vaguely bummed, like a professional basketball team whose genius coach gave up on them right before game time. This is the first time I’ve ever seen Michael Douglas or Bobby Cannavale fail to strike even one interesting note in a movie. And every typically likable Paul Rudd-ism — of which there were surprisingly few — gets squashed by a dopey “I want to be the man my daughter thinks I am” beat.

And poor, poor Evangeline Lilly — wearing a hairstyle that says “Me? No, I had nothing to do with those terrible Hobbit movies! You must have me mistaken for somebody else!” — is stuck with a character that contradicts all of Joss Whedon’s hard work to give women some equal footing in the Marvel universe. (Her big scene at the end feels less like a consolation prize and more like a condescending pat on the head.)

Only Michael Peña seems to be having any real fun here — he’s just amusing enough to make me wish he’d been cast as Ant-Man. Now that might’ve been a hoot.

I couldn’t help but notice that, while the audience applauded half-heartedly during the end credits, their enthusiasm didn’t come anywhere close to the joyful ovation that they gave the <i>Star Wars</i> trailer that ran before the movie — a trailer that’s already a couple of months old.

Marvel has become its own antonym.