‘Ant-Man’ just isn’t up there with the greats

17 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Ant-Man: Marvel’s little blockbuster takes concept to a brilliant new level.

The next evolution of the Marvel Cinematic Universe brings a founding member of The Avengers to the big screen for the first time , with Marvel Studios’ Ant-Man. LOS ANGELES, CA – JUNE 29: A view of the atmosphere at the world premiere of Marvel’s “Ant-Man” at The Dolby Theatre on June 29, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney) Paul Rudd stars as ex-convict Scott Lang, an ex-cat burglar in the Robin Hood mold who is recruited by a scientist armed with a suit that allows him to shrink while gaining super-strength and then re-enlarge whenever he wishes.A pleasant surprise despite the replacement of fanboy fave Edgar Wright by director Peyton Reed (“Bring It On”) and an awful eye-gouging 3-D conversion, Marvel’s San Francisco-set “Ant-Man” arrives, and only one building gets blown up.If all comic-book movies are just extensions of adolescent afternoons spent manipulating action figures, then Ant-Man takes the concept to a literal, if not brilliant, new level.

So the prospect that Ant-Man, the miniscule Mighty Mouse of Marvel’s stable of powerhouses, might join the brawny big-screen ranks of the Hulk, Thor and the rest has long held some pleasing irony. Forced out of his own company by former protégé Darren Cross, Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) recruits the talents of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a master thief just released from prison.

At the same time, Lang is trying to get back in the good graces of his ex-wife (Judy Greer) and young daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson) by being more reliable in terms of employability and child support. At one late point in the new film, our titular hero is facing off against the villainous Yellowjacket, with both of the characters shrunk down to the size of, well, you know. But that enticement — Oh, if it was something different! — went out the helicarrier window when, just weeks before shooting was to commence, Edgar Wright, the British blender of genre and comedy who had worked on the project for eight years, departed over “creative differences” — a sacrifice, seemingly, to the Marvel colossus.

The miniature hero must use his new skills to prevent Cross, also known as Yellowjacket, from perfecting the same technology and using it as a weapon for evil. Hank Pym, based in San Francisco, who long ago invented a suit dubbed the “Pym particle” that allows the wearer to drastically shrink in size while simultaneously gaining considerable strength. While the pair duke it out in typical Marvel fashion – lasers! punches! quips! – the camera pulls back, showing their battle royale as merely a blip in a child’s bedroom, an epic struggle that will be swept away when it’s time for bed. He’s an aging scientist who holds no punches and was the original Ant-Man, shrinking himself down to bug size and learning to control ants and bend them to his will and even befriend them. He has an ethnically diverse group of petty criminal friends: Tip “T.I.” Harris, David Dastmalchian and Michael Pena, the only actor rightly convinced he’s in a comedy.

So Pym, against the strenuous objections of his daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), recruits Lang to don the suit and become the new Ant-Man, which will at least keep the suit out of Cross’s manipulative hands while Pym trains Lang to become an effective superhero. And until the extended climax, he avoids the summer-movie-season temptation of letting conflict-filled set pieces overwhelm and suffocate the narrative. Conceived back in 2006 as a vehicle for Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright – and, presumably, his excessive genre sensibilities – the film was put through so many development speedbumps and studio tinkering over the course of a decade that the filmmaker left the project in frustration last May.

The movie is too controlled for Rudd’s goofball charm — best on display when simply standing in front of a mirror (“Wanderlust”) or animated about music (“I Love You, Man”) — to break free. Pym tries to find a young scientist with a bad attitude to take his place and fight to keep the technology out of the hands of Cross, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra. Also in on the action is Pym’s beautiful daughter (Evangeline Lilly in a scary wig), who appears to be aligned with Cross, although appearances can be deceiving, including a tank on a key chain.

Along with his daughter (a bob-sporting Evangeline Lilly), he’s conspiring to prevent a former apprentice (Corey Stoll) from unlocking the atomic secrets that led to Ant-Man in the first place: the ability to shrink down to bug-size, yet maintain strength. The script by Edgar Wright (who was originally set to direct as well), Joe Cornish, Adam McKay, and Rudd concentrates on family relationships – especially father-daughter bonds, which give the film a strong emotional undercurrent – rather than destructive action, although there’s plenty of that as well. Scott Lang’s low level criminal crew, played by Michael Pena, Tip “TI” Harris, and David Dastmalchian, provide most of the comedic relief, but Pena steals the show as Lang’s old cellmate Luis. Scott is a corporate whistle-blower with a master’s degree in electrical engineering, who was unjustly sent to San Quentin for three years for breaking and entering, where he met his motor-mouthed fantasist, best friend Luis (a priceless Michael Pena).

The news that Reed – best known for his peppy, if conventional, Bring It On – had taken the reins was disheartening for those anticipating something even the teensiest bit different from the comic-book industrial complex. Against all odds, though, Reed has made not just one of the more entertaining Marvel movies – infinitely better than Joss Whedon’s overstuffed Avengers: Age of Ultron – but a genuinely fun and clever deconstruction of the genre, too. Luis and his buddies, brooding, spooky-voiced, tech-whiz Kurt (David Dastmalchian) and insolent heist expert Dave (T.I.), are enlisted by Scott to help him break into Cross Industries after first breaking into the Pym mansion, stealing Pym’s old Ant-Man suit and helmet.

The beats are familiar: A broken man (Rudd here, but Robert Downey Jr./Mark Ruffalo/Chris Hemsworth/Chris Evans elsewhere) discovers a gift of great power, and uses it both for personal salvation and the greater good. Rudd’s Scott Lang is a smirking crook, fully aware of the ridiculousness surrounding him, but with such an amiable oh-what-the-hell attitude that we’re happy just to take it all in stride.

Ant-Man changing size as he fights could’ve been crutch for the action scenes to lean on; instead they’re mixed in at the right time and never overused. With imagery and language evoking the Richard Matheson-scripted 1957 classic “The Incredible Shrinking Man,” undoubtedly an inspiration for the original 1962 “Ant-Man” comic book as well, “Ant-Man” also recalls those “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” comic spinoffs. The power here is also not innate, such as Thor’s alien strength or Tony Stark’s ultra-genius, but a shrinkable suit fuelled by a serum created by another man entirely. During Ant-Man’s final showdown with Yellowjacket, there’s fight scene inside a briefcase that’s brilliant and reminded me why people love Marvel films so much – they’re fun. Complete with cameo appearances by Falcon (Antony Mackie), Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Howard Stark (John Slattery) and shoutouts to “The Avengers,” “Ant-Man” is firmly planted in the Marvel genealogical tree.

Ant-Man is a comic-book movie, naturally, but it also smashes up against the heist film – with its Ocean’s 11-like plot of charming outsiders infiltrating a high-tech compound – and even the tightly wound family melodrama, with a pair of father-daughter tales at its emotional, sometimes mushy, core. By the film’s winking climax near Thomas the Train Engine’s tracks of doom, it’s clear that Reed has done the impossible: surviving, and thriving, while inside Marvel’s restraints.

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