Ant-Man (dir. Peyton Reed)

Posted: July 22, 2015 in Uncategorized

“Ant-Man” is rather refreshing, coming off the entertaining but disappointing “Avengers: Age of Ultron”.  Having grown weary of films featuring CGI animated people fighting other CGI animated people/robots/aliens/creatures, I can’t quite enjoy some of these Marvel films as much as the general populous is.  Thus far my favorite Marvel film has been the one with the most political content and which featuring a bang-up, practical effects car chase and shout out scene, “Captain America: The Winter Solider”.  I didn’t have high hopes going in to “Ant-Man” because, well, a guy who shrinks seems like an ability that would be conveyed through heavy CGI, even though films like “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” and “Innerspace” made do with practical effects in the 1980s.

So, to my surprise and delight, “Ant-Man” uses CGI effectively.  While the climax of the film is pretty much one CGI guy beating up another CGI guy, it takes place in a setting which highlights originality and humor (a child’s bedroom and train set), and in that sense it worked for me, as did CGI-riddled scenes of a tiny man riding a flying ant, and others.  Possibly, it’s because we’re dealing with unique visuals and entertaining scenarios that we don’t often see on film (a tiny man running away from a torrent of water in a bathtub, or skipping across a record being played), as opposed to costumed people jumping around and beating up robots, which I’ve seen in so many movies that I only grow bored when they play out.  The genre of a tiny person interacting with regular sized objects isn’t exactly new or original in and of itself (in addition to the two aforementioned 80s films, the 50s had a ton of these, and even the 90s had the execrable “The Indian in the Cupboard” adaptation), but quite frankly it’s been so long since a movie like this, and this being the first film of this genre I’ve seen in 3D, that I actually found myself enchanted by CGI rather than bored, and not many movies do that to me nowadays.

Also, this is a film that does indeed go “smaller” than other Marvel films.  The world is not on the brink of annihilation.  The apocalypse isn’t nigh.  Nope, the goal is basically to keep an evil capitalist from selling a bad weapon to a bad group of people.  Sadly, aside from our main character Scott’s (Paul Rudd) background of breaking into a bank and redistributing money to the people the bank ripped off, the film doesn’t contain much anti-capitalist or social justice content.  Basically, Scott spends some time in prison for that crime, and comes out unable to get a good job because of his criminal record. Commentary on the American justice system and the prison industrial complex ends there, but at least the movie gets a couple of superficial political points in.  Scott needs a job because he hasn’t been able to pay child support for his daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson) and his ex-wife (Judy Greer, as wasted here as she was in “Jurassic World”) doesn’t want him to see his daughter until he can pony up the dough and get a respectable job.

Anyway, through a series of plot machinations, it’s revealed that a scientist named Hank Pym (Michael Douglas, who looks to be having fun) once invented a “particle” that, when combined with a special suit, can allow a person to shrink to the size of an insect and back at will.  This also makes the insect-sized person have super-strength because of atom density, or some such nonsense that works well enough in the movie for me to not care about the details.  Pym didn’t want S.H.I.E.L.D. or the Stark Corporation to have it, so he squirreled it away to keep it out of the hands of people who could misuse the tech. In the present day, the head of Pym’s company is a man named Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Cross seems upset that Pym at first took him on as a protégé and then didn’t like him anymore, and Cross is motivated by an “I’ll show you” need to redeem himself and one up his former master, as well as general megalomania and want of profit.  Honestly, Cross is another in a line of really weak Marvel villains.  Not as weak as Guy Pierce in “Iron Man 3”, whose motives still don’t make a goddamn lick of sense to me, but weak nonetheless.  I had hoped Ultron would break this pattern (I’m not as big a fan of Loki as Tumblr is), but he was also pretty weaksauce, despite his wonderful voice work courtesy of James Spader.  In any case, Cross has created a tiny, weaponized suit called the Yellowjacket, and he merely has to figure out how to shrink organic matter without killing it to succeed in being able to create an army of tiny soldiers for the highest bidder.  Many lambs die for this.

Worried about this, Pym recruits Scott for his great burgling skills to become a new Ant-Man to steal and destroy the Yellowjacket tech before it can fall into the hands of evil.  The film then proceeds from this point as a comedic heist movie with a few asides to the great Marvel Cinematic Universe, but handles doing a stand-alone story with references much better than, say, the clunky “Iron Man 2” did.  The movie isn’t anything particularly thrilling on its own (as far as heist films go, the original “Mission: Impossible” (1996)  has a scene with Tom Cruise dangling from the ceiling that is more thrilling than anything in the entire film of “Ant-Man”), but when compared to the rest of Marvel’s slate, it feels better than it is.  The film has a freewheeling breeziness and a better sense of fun than many of the other MCU films have.  I wonder how much of Edgar Wright’s original script remains intact here. Wright, of course, is the man who directed and co-wrote films such as “Shaun of the Dead”, “Hot Fuzz”, “The World’s End”, and “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”, all films I’ve either really liked or outright loved.  He and his writing partner, Joe Cornish, worked on the film for many years before dropping out for reasons unknown, but rumored to be frustration with integrating their vision into the larger MCU.  Later, star Paul Rudd and comedy director Adam McKay rewrote the script to the finished version we see on screens now, with all four writers getting on-screen credit.

This is a film where a giant ant becomes a pet, many tiny ants provide sugar for coffee, a tiny man has wonderful tiny adventures, Baskin Robbins gets better product placement than it will ever get, Stan Lee has one of his funniest cameos, and where a ton of CGI is on the screen without boring those of us who see hundreds of movies a year and find CGI in and of itself tiresome if not used to interesting means.  The action works, but up until the third act this film is more heist movie and comedy than anything recognizable as a superhero action film.  I liked that.

Paul Rudd himself is at his best.  This is Rudd at his most Ruddiest and likeable, and that might be because he partially wrote his own part this time, and played to his strengths.  This is another film where Marvel has a woman problem, in this case Pym’s daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) is kind of wasted in the film, though a mid-credits sequence indicates Marvel is finally recognizing this and is (slowly) working about correcting it.  The entire cast, especially Michael Pena, works well to create one of the better ensembles of these Marvel films.  I also like the way this film attempts to defy convention, including the tastes of Pena’s character when it comes to art and wine.  I also like that a love story in this film is pretty much relegated to off-screen until a funny-yet-expected reveal late in the film.  I like that a major plan of the characters in the film ultimately fails and that the villain saw right through it all along.  Some of the plot turns are telegraphed a mile away (Quantum Realm), but there are enough surprises to keep the thing going well.

I enjoyed “Ant-Man” more than “Ultron”, by far.  It’s also better than “Iron Man 2 & 3” and the first “Captain America”, but it comes up slightly short against the first “Iron Man” and very short from the highs of “Winter Soldier”.  I’d put “Ant-Man:” on the level of the first “Avengers”. B.

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