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Friday, July 17, 2015

DAMN Good Movies -- ANT-MAN


You guessed it, it's time once again for another of my movie takes, this one on the film Ant-Man, based on the Marvel Comics superhero.  As always, if you haven't seen the movie yet and you don't want it spoiled for you, then please step back from your computer or whatever electronic device you're reading this on and stop reading now.  If, however, you're wise enough to know that movie reviews with spoilers are always more interesting than the ones without them...well...let's get small...

To say that an Ant-Man movie has been long in the works would be a serious understatement.  Development on the film began as early as the 1980s, when co-creator Stan Lee pitched the idea to New World Entertainment, Marvel's parent company at the time.  In 2000, Artisan Entertainment announced a deal with Marvel to make the movie and in 2003, Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright and his writing partner Joe Cornish wrote a treatment around Scott Lang, the second Ant-Man.  In 2006, Marvel hired Wright to direct the movie, but the project went into Development Hell with script rewrites and wasn't formally announced until 2013.  However, due to "differences in vision," Wright left the project in May 2014 and Peyton Reed was announced as his replacement the month after with production beginning in August.

The movie opens in 1989, where Dr. Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, meets with Howard Stark and Peggy Carter and resigns from S.H.I.E.L.D. after finding out that they attempted to duplicate his shrinking technology.  Apart from the obvious fanservice with a couple of great cameos, this opening immediately establishes Ant-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe while giving us a little of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s history with the Triskelion headquarters being constructed.

Meanwhile, we're introduced to the next Ant-Man, Scott Lang, who is released from prison and desperately wants to live a normal life so he can be allowed to see his daughter Cassie. Scott finds out that his ex-wife Maggie is now engaged to a disapproving cop named Paxton, but Maggie won't allow visitation rights unless Scott gets his life on track.  And of course, with a criminal record for theft, Scott can only manage to get a menial job at Baskin-Robbins ice cream, but ends up getting quickly fired after learning of his record because Baskin-Robbins don't play.

The film's Second Act puts Hank and Scott on a collision course, when Scott is forced to return to crime and breaks into Hank's house with the help of his friend Luis and a couple of guys he knows.  Expecting a big score after using some impressive science to break into a huge, 100-year-old safe, Scott only finds a strange suit and helmet that finally gets the film off and running.  Trying on the suit while hiding in his shower, Scott presses a button and shrinks to the size of an insect, giving us our first rollercoaster ride as Scott is washed down the bathtub drain while being addressed by Hank through the Ant-Man helmet's communications relay.

Scott is introduced to Hank's daughter, Hope Van Dyne, and is soon put through the standard training montage sequence of becoming a movie hero.  Hope shows him how to fight and Hank shows him how to use the Ant-Man tech, all for the purpose of breaking into Hank's old company that has been taken over by the film's Big Bad, Darren Cross.  Cross, it turns out, learned about the "legend of the Ant-Man" and decided the shrinking technology would be great for military and espionage uses.  Hank, it turns out, is totally not down with this and wants to stop his former protege Cross from developing his own Ant-Man technology in the form of a Yellowjacket suit.

That sounds pretty simple and straightforward for a Marvel superhero movie, but in this case, it feels like a good thing.  Like the superhero himself, Ant-Man the movie finds that there are advantages in getting smaller, a much-needed change from one world-threatening disaster after another thanks to previous Big Bads like Loki, the Chitauri, Malekith, Hydra, and Ultron.

Ultimately, though, Ant-Man is a story about fathers and daughters wrapped up in superhero packaging.  You have the prickly relationship between Hank and Hope, damaged for years by the apparent death of Hope's mother, Janet, and you have Scott's desperate need to have a relationship with his young daughter Cassie.  The two men complement one another well, with Hank providing the means for Scott to get his life on track, while Scott acts as the catalyst that cuts through years of animosity and brings Hank and Hope closer together.

The movie's eclectic cast have a surprising amount of chemistry with one another, providing a lot of fun and entertaining character moments.  Here are some of the things that stood out:

ANT-MAN/SCOTT LANG -- Primarily a comedic actor, Paul Rudd reinvents himself pretty well as a Marvel superhero.  He's likeable and sympathetic, although feels a bit stiff at times when barking out orders to his army of ants or asked to deliver strong heroic lines.  Rudd seems to work best when playing off others, which means his upcoming appearance in Captain America: Civil War should be promising indeed.

HOPE VAN DYNE -- Evangeline Lilly is having quite the career after her television series Lost, first with the last two Hobbit films and now Ant-Man.  Thankfully, Hope isn't the typical Marvel damsel in distress, nor the typical Marvel love interest (a kiss with Scott takes place behind a closed door).  And best of all, the mid-credits sequence revealed that she's getting a Wasp suit of her very own, presumably for Captain America: Civil War as well.

YELLOWJACKET/DARREN CROSS -- After watching Corey Stoll on House of Cards and The Strain, it feels a bit strange to see him as the main villain.  Cross isn't overly memorable, certainly not on a Red Skull level, but as Scott Lang's first enemy from his first appearance in Marvel Premiere #47, he makes perfect sense.  And as Marvel fans know, Pym's Yellowjacket identity works well as a villain.

HANK PYM -- Michael Douglas is one of the last people I thought I would ever see in a Marvel movie, but hey, if they could get Robert Redford, why not him?  Douglas brings considerable depth to Hank, who only became interesting in the comics when he was creating evil sentient robots like Ultron or having serious mental breakdowns.  And mercifully, the unpleasantness of Hank Pym hitting his wife Janet in the comics isn't even hinted at.

PAXTON -- Anyone who watched Boardwalk Empire knows that Bobby Cannavale can play the hell out of being an asshole.  Here, he's no different, as the douchebag cop fiance giving Scott side-eye glares while bringing up his criminal past any chance he gets.  Rather abruptly at the end, he does a complete 180 where Scott is concerned, allowing Scott to be a part of Cassie's life.

LUIS -- Michael Peña is an odd sidekick for Ant-Man, a motormouth former cellmate and member of Lang's heist team.  He brings some nice comedic moments without being overly annoying, pretty much all you can hope for from the sidekick role.

MAGGIE LANG -- Once again, Judy Greer is given a role that doesn't make the most of her talents, as anyone who also saw her in Jurassic World can testify.  Archer fans know she's capable of so much more, so if Ant-Man rates a sequel, here's hoping she gets more to do.

CASSANDRA "CASSIE" LANG -- Abby Ryder Fortson is as adorable a little girl as you can hope for, and pretty damn funny when she's blatantly rooting for her father Scott against Paxton.

PEGGY CARTER CAMEO -- Hayley Atwell reprises Peggy, becoming a better connection for Marvel Cinematic Universe films and television than Clark Gregg's Phil Coulson.  In this outing, Peggy is forty years older than when she last saw Steve Rogers, but doesn't seem like she's lost a single step.  At least, not until Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

HOWARD STARK CAMEO -- Reprising the role as the older Howard Stark, John Slattery's Howard is a bit further along than when we last saw him in Iron Man 2.  He doesn't resemble Dominic Cooper's Howard Stark much at all, but for some weird reason, both actors manage to make the role work.

THE FALCON CAMEO -- Anthony Mackie has a pretty sizable (no pun intended) cameo here, which includes a great fight sequence between Ant-Man and The Falcon as he investigates a security breach at the new Avengers compound.  He also turns up in the post-credits scene, informing Captain America about Ant-Man's skill set. 

OBLIGATORY STAN LEE CAMEO -- Stan "The Man" turns up as a bartender at the end of the movie, reciting some of Luis' rambling dialogue about a new opportunity.  It's pretty short, but then again, so is Ant-Man.

CAPTAIN AMERICA AND WINTER SOLDIER CAMEOS -- Chris Evans and Sebastian Stan turn up in the post-closing credits scene that appears to tie in with Captain America: Civil War.  Cap needs a specialist for infiltration and The Falcon just happens to know a guy.

All in all, Ant-Man is an entertaining and fun Marvel superhero film, better than you would expect it to be.  It's certainly not up there in the big leagues of Cap, Iron Man and Thor, and it doesn't quite reach the greatness of Guardians of the Galaxy, but thankfully, it's also not bogged down in too much Marvel Cinematic Universe continuity.  After the overly-crowded Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man is quirky and a much-needed breath of fresh air.

And for those who may be wondering, here's the updated list of my Top 20 Comic Book Films:

1. Superman (1978)
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
3. The Avengers (2012)
4. Man of Steel (2013)
5. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
6. Spider-Man (2002)
7. Batman Begins (2005)

8. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

9. Iron Man (2008)
10. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
11. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
12. Watchmen (2009)
13. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
14. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
15. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
16. X-Men: First Class (2011)
17: The Wolverine (2013)

18. X2: X-Men United (2003)
19. X-Men (2000)
20. Ant-Man (2015)

Your friendly neighborhood movie reviewer,

Charles


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