July 21, 2015

Movie Review: Ant-Man

Tell me, and be honest, are you getting a little sick of superhero movies? I feel like I am on the cusp of falling into the abyss of writing them off. I do not think I will ever actually go over, but there is always that possibility. I feel like they (Marvel, mostly) map out their universe too far in advance and while the movies may entertain, they are starting to hit a level of diminishing returns for me. The map sucks some of the drama and danger many of the characters are in. Sure, we may know the hero isn't going to die, but knowing the actors are under contract for X more movies sort of hurts it. Enter Ant-Man.

In my opinion, it is comic superhero movies like this, Guardians of the Galaxy, and going back a ways Blade that need to get some focus. I think these quirkier, not quite mainstream characters are a good way of helping keep the hero genre fresh. It also allows a little bit more freedom in terms of approach and creative license. Granted, I think there was a possibility that Ant-Man could have been even more quirkier, but it still had to conform to the larger Marvel Universe (I think that is what led to Edgar Wright's departure, I would have loved to have seen what he would have brought to it). With that said, I still see touches of Wright throughout, and he does have a screenwriting credit, so his fingerprints if not complete vision is there.

The version of Ant-Man we get is directed by Peyton Reed, whom I remember for directing the throwback comedy Down with Love and the Jim Carrey vehicle, Yes Man, not to mention the cheerleader movie Bring it On. The screenplay is credited to Edgar Wright (The Cornetto Trilogy), Joe Cornish (Attack the Block), Adam McKay (Anchorman), and Paul Rudd (Role Models). I don't know about you, but I look at the creative team and it just seems like a somewhat weird bunch for a superhero movie. Still, I like the outside of the box thinking (despite the likely influence of the Marvel Architects).

Ant-Man is a fun movie. It is very entertaining, it is funny, has some good action, and a solid cast. It fails to rise to the level of Guardians of the Galaxy, but is certainly better than The Avengers: Age of Ultron. It is an origin movie that bypasses the original origin and tells us the start of the second generation. The movie is a passing of the torch from the original wearer of the Ant-Man suit to a new guy who may not be up to the task, but seems prepared to redeem himself by becoming a hero.

The movie has the right villain, Darren Cross, aka Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll), yet he comes off a little dry and not terribly exciting. While I wish the bad guy was a little more impressive, it seems the right call to focus on the passing of the torch/redemption thread that truly dominates the narrative. The plot of the film centers on Cross and his research into the Pym particle, a way to shrink things and a great thing to weaponize. The particle was developed by Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Hank sees the danger of it and has worked to prevent its use. To that end, he needs to steal it before it gets used. This is where Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) enters the story, a scientist and burglar who always seems to strke out when it comes to being in his daughter's life. Pym sees what he is looking for in Lang and a new Ant-Man is born.

The plot is pretty straightforward, but where it works is the oftentimes quirky characterizations, and the heart that is laced throughout. There is this relationship that develops between Pym and Lang. Where Cross was once Pym's assistant, he was a dark reflection of the older scientist, Lang represents the possibility of what he could have been and rather than sit by and watch Lang lose his opportunity, he steps in to try and keep everything on the right path.

Ant-Man is a well crafted film. It does not tell your typical origin story, while still being one. They took good care in casting their supporting cast, in particular Michael Pena is hysterical. It ties back to the Marvel universe nicely. It has some very well staged action sequences, especially one when Lang has to break into an old Stark storage facility.

I never really knew that much about Ant-Man, he may never be a Spider-Man, Iron Man, or Wolverine, but he has his place in the pantheon and is an interesting choice to get his own movie. I am glad he did. We can use movies like this to keep things a little fresh. No, it is not the most original movie, but it has its moments of levity, ingenuity, and creativity. It may have been stifled by a need to conform to the universe, but I guess that is a price we will have to pay for some fresh air on the superhero front.

It is easy to recommend Ant-Man. It is pretty safe for the whole family and I just liked it. I had hopes for it, although they have been tempered ever since Edgar Wright exited, the hope was there nonetheless. I am happy to see my hopes were not dashed. This is certainly one to enjoy. Also, pay attention to the photography and effects when he is ant-size, everything looks pretty cool. Lastly, pay attention for a cameo that is a callback to an old SNL skit.


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