Review–Second-tier Marvel movies triumph again with Ant-Man

Ant-Man and Antony

Review by C.J. Bunce

Good movies often ride on the backs of their earlier incarnations.  The Incredible Shrinking Man.  The Greatest American Hero.  Beetlejuice.  Innerspace.  Memoirs of the Invisible Man.  Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.  The classic original Tron.  Sources you might not first think of like Wallace & Gromit’s The Wrong Trousers. Even Thoreau’s Walden (who hasn’t marveled at the coordinated work of ants, or fantasized about being very small?).  Marvel’s new hit Ant-Man borrows bits and pieces from all of these and more.  Yet it also adds something new to those, such as improved special effects, including make-up, CGI, and many action sequences.  It mirrors our place in the big world.  Throw in a hero battling a giant spider with a nail for a sword and I’m sold.

Ant-Man is a rollercoaster ride.  All fun and not too serious like the steadfast captain America arguing with the cocky Tony Stark over the roll of the disinterested Bruce Banner that we all have now seen too many times on screen.  Paul Rudd’s heroic Scott Lang has one motivation, yet he lacks the typical superhero ingeniousness to accomplish his goal.  That element endears the character to everyone and is the gateway to an ensemble cast effort that pushes the story forward.  You just know Lang is like Rudd, that same guy we cheer along with at Kansas City Royals games.

Michael Douglas looking 25 years younger in Ant-Man

Equal to Rudd’s role is a surprisingly strong performance by Michael Douglas.  Looking like the twin of his father Kirk these days, as Dr. Hank Pym he anchors the film with gravitas.  His role in the story is substantial and should require sharing top billing as co-lead.  His work here rivals all his prior best work in The Game, The Ghost and the Darkness, The American President, Falling Down, Wall Street, Romancing the Stone, The China Syndrome, and Coma.  An Academy Award nod is warranted for both Douglas as well as the CGI team that provided the single best use of facial modification to replicate his younger self (done in part by firm Lola VFX who made skinny Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger).  Tron: Legacy made a good attempt at what Ant-Man has perfected in its opening scene–we’re now ready for an entire film using this approach, an entire film starring a 40-year-old Wall Street era Douglas, for example, relying on the acting prowess of the veteran actor today.

Lang and Pym Ant-man

Evangeline Lilly’s role as Pym’s daughter is secondary, yet her role supports enough of the backstory that it makes us anxious for Ant-Man 2, previewed in two of the film’s end-credit codas.  Michael Peña portrays what could be an over-used stock Latino criminal by bringing some humanity and humor to the role.  Even the villain, played by Law & Order: LA’s Corey Stoll, is interesting although more loathsome than needed for the part.

Ant-Man Lilly Douglas

Both Pym and Lang are true to their comic book origins.  The costume design was excellently realized, a classic heist story is slowly but cleverly revealed, and real anty biology is incorporated into the movie.  That dry humor Paul Rudd is known for is also spliced into the picture for good effect.

Ant-man in trouble

Paralleling both the size of the title’s superhero and his place in the large Marvel Universe, Ant-Man as a film is a small picture.  The stakes are similar to past Marvel movies–save the world–yet instead of multiple flying battleships dangerously imperiling a city below, the climactic battle is here in the bedroom of a little girl.  A train ride battle on a Thomas the Tank Engine playset is nicely woven into the story and kids of all ages will love it.  And the ants?  New Girl and The Weird Al Show director Peyton Reed actually made ants seem cute and lovable.

Lang and Pym Ant-man

What keeps Ant-Man from being a great vs. good movie are some basic missteps Hollywood continues to make.  The elements don’t diminish from the film’s enjoyment but you’d wish so many pieces would not be so predictable: things like the odd use of profanity to push it above PG adds nothing to the show, and killing off innocents (a man, two lambs, and a sacrificial ant) in gory ways is another unnecessary story device this film could have easily bypassed.  But it’s still a good film, nearly as good as Guardians of the Galaxy, but without all the mega-sized CGI, and far more intimate than any of the Avengers films.  Speaking of the Avengers, look for at least one substantial cameo that adds to the fun and ties this movie to all the rest.

Ant-Man is in theaters now everywhere.  Watch it in 3D if available in your area.




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