Sunday, August 9, 2015

Ant-Man


3.5 Stars

Ant-Man is in a pretty good movie. Picture a cross between the 1966 film Gambit, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and Iron Man, and you have a pretty good approximation of Ant-Man.

As all movies in 2015 must, Ant-Man opens in the 1980s. Hank Pym (an incredibly well rendered youthful Michael Douglas) storms angrily into a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility and confronts Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell, who’s age makeup here is not as good as in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Howard Stark (John Slattery), and Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan) because S.H.I.E.L.D. has been trying unsuccessfully to replicate Pym’s namesake particle. S.H.I.E.L.D. being S.H.I.E.L.D. is unrepentant, and Pym storms out quitting S.H.I.E.L.D. and the whole superhero universe for good  - until 2015.

Pym (an undigitally rendered actual aged Douglas) now lives in enforced retirement. His handpicked protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), and estranged daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) at some point between 1989 and 2015 took the company he founded out of his hands by force. Cross has retraced Pym’s steps and is on the brink of recreating the Pym Particle (the MacGuffin Pym was so upset about in the opening scene). The Pym Particle allows whoever controls it to shrink. In the wrong hands, it could rewrite reality (or so Pym tells us). Hope is convinced. She defects from Cross and aids her father in developing a plan to destroy Cross’ work on the Pym Particle and keep the world safe until Captain America: Civil War, but they can’t do it alone. They recruit a thief, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), and his misfit friends (Michael Pena, Tip “T.I.” Harris, and David Dastmalchian) to help them pull off an elaborate heist to retake Pym’s technology.

Ant-Man works. It’s a pretty good film, and in many ways I liked it better than Avengers: Age of Ultron. The relatively small scale of Ant-Man makes it feel sort of unique, and could have permitted the film to be funnier, quirkier, and more character driven than the rest of the Marvel canon. Unfortunately, the characterization all feels a bit abbreviated, probably because Ant-Man spends most of its brief running time staging elaborate action sequences (which are, in fairness, the most entertaining action set pieces Marvel’s produced). As a result though, developments that should have been shown to us through the eyes of characters, are given to us in expository dialogue. This shortchanges both Stoll and Lilly, depriving them of opportunities to play their characters making discoveries pertinent to their characters’ development.

Ant-Man also shows the signs of studio interference. Jokes that appear in the trailers don’t appear in the final cut of the film. This, in particular, bothered me. The jokes in the trailers were about superhero names, costumes, etc. They mocked the conventions of the superhero genre and Marvel movies in particular. Cutting those jokes seems like an unnecessary move from Marvel. This is a studio that scored hits with films based on an obscure title concerning space pirates and two movies concentrating on palace intrigue among a group of Viking space gods. Honestly, a few jokes in a movie about the incredible shrinking man aren’t going to hurt you. Actually, given that track record, what went wrong with The Incredible Hulk?

That said, Ant-Man does a great job of embracing its concept. The shrinking scenes are used to great effect, and permit Ant-Man to stage three stellar duels. The first pits Ant-Man against Falcon at the brand new Avengers facility glimpsed at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron. The second is a fight between Ant-Man and Yellow Jacket in a helicopter/brief case, and, finally, the third takes place in the bedroom of Lang’s daughter – where size changing is awesome.

I also liked the ants. There’s a weird B-Movie quality to all of the scenes where Paul Rudd interacts with the ants (I mean that as a compliment), and Ant-Man wisely chooses to give its ants characteristics – both as individuals and as collectives and includes them in several fascinating ways throughout.

Ant-Man is good, not great. However, Marvel is pretty good at learning lessons from the films it produces. I hope the positive aspects of Ant-Man represents the shape of things to come, and Marvel allows its films to go deep into their varying concepts, and be as funny, serious, scifi, magical, or earthbound as the subject matter requires.

From Out of in the Void


Steven

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