Ant-Man (2015)

Eventually Marvel Studios is going to toss out a high-budget, Marvel-Universe ‘blockbuster-wannabe’ flick…and the world will watch it crash and burn. It’ll be an idea that’s SO ‘out there’ that if fails to connect with the vast audience this studio has been carefully cultivating over the last 8 or so years. Last year, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of a little movie named ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, and I was fully prepared for the possibility that the silly outer space adventure would simply ‘Jump the Shark’ and Marvel’s credibility would take a sharp nose dive. I was wrong. That movie ended up kicking all sorts of ass and earned back a HUGE pay-cheque. Then came the rumblings of ‘Ant-Man’, as it was being guided through a rigorous and seemingly-careful pre-production period by writer / director Edgar Wright (‘Shaun of the Dead’). Cool test footage was released, concept art was teased…and I still wasn’t sure. Despite having been an enormous comic-book nerd as a kid, I never did cross paths with ‘Ant-Man’. So going into this one, I was going in more or less ‘blind’, with no preconceived idea about things like ‘Hank Pym’, or ‘Wasp’, or the ‘Pym Particle’, or any of the strangely sinister-sounding character traits of the comic’s protagonist (something about beating his wife up(?)…the prick). So I was able to simply accept this one as it was and see how well it worked without the benefit of canon. So…how did it work?
First, The Story: ‘Ant-Man’ opens with a prologue sequence (set in the late 80’s) in which a doctor named ‘Hank Pym’ (an awesome-looking ‘young’ Michael Douglas) finds himself at odds with his employer ‘Howard Stark’ (John Slattery), and some other self-serving cronies, over the use of a recently-developed and revolutionary scientific process that can allow a man to instantly compress his molecules (or the space between atoms…or…something), and shrink down to an incredibly small size, while maintaining the accelerated strength of a normal-sized man. ‘Pym’ sees larger problems on the horizon, while ‘Stark’ sees instant weapons potential. ‘Pym’ leaves angrily (and a lil violently), with a dangerous rift between him and what will eventually become S.H.I.E.L.D. We then flash-forward to Present Day, where we meet a burglar named’ Scott Lang’ (Paul Rudd) during a tone-setting ( aka ‘amusing’) Prison Release Ritual involving a large, boulder-like inmate with the unlikely name of ‘Peach’. Upon release, ‘Scott’ hooks up with one of his old accomplices; a dim, easily-excitable and eager-to-please Latino gang-banger named ‘Luis’ (Michael Pena). ‘Luis’ tries to lure ‘Scott’ back into The Life, but ‘Scott’ truly means to go straight and narrow…due to the high value he now puts on mending his relationship with his young daughter ‘Cassie’ (an adorable Abby Ryder-Fortson). Through a short series of adventurous and funny episodes, ‘Scott’ is brought into the sphere of the now-elderly ‘Pym’ and his ball-busting daughter ‘Hope’ (Evangeline Lilly). He’s asked / pushed into donning the ‘ant-man’ suit and working toward a super hero-like goal doing what he does best…planning and executing a daring heist, this time aimed squarely at ‘Pym’s former, power-hungry assistant ‘Darren Cross’ (Corey Stoll), now the CEO of ‘Pym’s Stark-like technology corporation. ‘Cross’ is close to perfecting the shrinking tech and “Pym’ and ‘Hope’ need ‘Scott’s resume’ of anti-social skills to infiltrate and stop the process…before Hydra can get to it. And off the story goes!!
As I was watching this one, I couldn’t shake the feeling of similarity between this and the first ‘Iron Man’ (2008). The pacing, the tone, the humor and the exciting action; told with style and competence…all in a run-time that doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. As with THAT one…so with THIS. So The Stark Family connection extends beyond the confines of the MCU…there’s a similar tone and layout too!
To the point though…I really liked this movie! Having no expectations and very little backstory may have helped, but I simply had a really good time watching this. That’s all I asked…and that’s what I got. I was admittedly indifferent to the existence of this flick, as scuttlebutt about it’s production was being leaked out left, right and centre. One of those pieces of soon-to-be pop trivia was the 11th Hour ‘walking’ of long-established director ‘Edgar Wright’, due to supposed ‘creative differences’ with Marvel Studios (he still gets a Story and Screenwriter credit). With only 6 or so weeks left before production (I believe), the studio then had to scramble to find a worthy replacement for the Director’s Chair. They spun the bottle…and settled on…Peyton Reed. “Peyton who?” – You ask? Yeah…I asked the same thing.
Looking at his filmography, which seems to consist of mediocre rom-coms and TV movies, you’d have to wonder just what the hell did Marvel see in THIS guy to make them go “Here, please, at the last minute guide this next chapter of our epic and HIGHLY profitable cinematic universe to glory!!…despite this project seeming to be TOTALLY out of your league.” Happily, it seems that judging a book by it’s shitty filmography can be a mistake…because he did a great job with the material. Hat’s off to you, Peyton Reed! May Hollywood now open some doors to you, sir!
A big part of what makes this movie work is the casting. In all likelihood, all these players were probably on-board before Reed hopped behind the wheel, but the man knew how to use them. EVERYONE is good in this flick. It was great seeing Michael Douglas (‘Falling Down’) on The Big Screen again. The CG work in the opening prologue, where we meet the younger ‘Pym’, was amazing! Pretty much a flawless ‘de-aging’ of the legendary thespian…it looked great! When we catch up to him looking more like…himself (these days), the ‘character’ came with it. Despite not getting a shitload of exposition about him, “Pym’ felt ‘well rounded’ to me. When I first heard that Paul Rudd (‘The 40 Year-Old Virgin’) had been tapped to take The Lead Role, as I’ve never considered him for this kind of project, I was hesitant. He always seemed like a somewhat bland/somewhat charismatic dude with good comedic timing, that always seemed to turn up as the cocky buddy of some character in a rom-com (probably directed by Peyton Reed). But he stepped up! He fit into the role of ‘Lang’ with little to no trouble, putting his characteristic wit and timing to good use. I’ll be curious to see how he fits into the larger Marvel Universe. Backing him up was the main source of comic relief in the movie, his partner’s-in-crime ‘Luis’ (Pena), ‘Kurt’ (David Dastmalchian) and ‘Dave’ (T.I.). These three semi-competent morons were welcome every time they were on screen, especially ‘Luis’. Pena played the character as a lovable doofus…and it worked beautifully. We also get Anthony Mackie reprising his ‘Falcon’ role from ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ (2014), in an exciting and humorous extended cameo that helped further tie this flick to it’s Marvel brethren. There’s also a number of characters / actors from other parts of the Marvel Universe that pop onscreen in short, welcome bursts.
This movie did such a good job telling it’s own story (in my opinion) that whenever one of those Marvel ‘reminders’ revealed itself, it was just a bonus. But, at it’s core, this movie is surprisingly and refreshingly simple…with a heart.
That was one thing about ‘Ant-Man’s dynamic…there’s a lot of love between several of the characters. It ‘s nice when it ‘s evident that characters give a shit about one another, and those relationships pay off in the end. I found that it helped me root for The Good Guys just that little bit extra, as a result. I mean, we get the touching relationship between ‘Scott’ and ‘Cassie’, the typical child-of-divorce relationship between ‘Cassie’ and her Mom (Maggie Lang) and the strangely ‘firm but fair’ detective step-father ‘Paxton’ (Bobby Cannavale), the icy-but-warming relationship between ‘Hank Pym’ and ‘Hope’, and the buddies-for-life dynamic between ‘Scott’ and ‘Luis’. Lots of people care about other people in this flick and it really helped endear me to their plight.
The film looks really good. It’s shot with a certain degree of restraint, but certainly offers up stimulating visuals when the script calls for it, which it thankfully does often. I found the color pallet in the ‘normal’ sequences a wee bit drab (almost Fincher-esque), as I think that this flick deserves to visually ‘pop’, but it did kick it up a notch during the kinetic miniaturization sequences. The same can also be said of the 3D. Initially I was underwhelmed by what was obviously a conversion job, but as the more fantastic elements began to play out, the 3rd dimension began to work it’s magic. Not necessary, but it did add ‘something’ to my viewing experience.
All in all, this movie-going experience was worth it. I had no expectations of ‘Ant-Man’ and that paid off nicely. It’s a genuinely well-written and executed Summer Popcorn movie that has earned it’s place in the puzzle that is the emerging Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s fun. It’s often funny. The effects are sweet. The acting is solid. The connections connect, and the action is creative and, many times, exhilarating. This is worth seeing at the theatre and I’m sure that all age groups will get something out of it. If you liked ‘Iron Man’ or ‘Guardians of the Galaxy…then THIS is a Marvel movie for YOU!


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