ANT-MAN Another Big Hit for Marvel

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Paul Rudd is ANT-MAN. Opens 7/17/15.

I’ve decided to quit doubting Marvel. They clearly have a plan. At this point they could do films for comics like Power Pack or The Adventures of Young Aunt May—I just made that up—and they’d gross a quarter of a billion dollars. Disney paid $4 billion dollars for Marvel and has nearly made their money back at this point strictly on box office, never mind the merchandise. Their latest entry in the mighty Marvel movie mythos is ANT-MAN.

ANT-MAN, like GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY last year, is a film that I didn’t think was a good idea to even attempt. In the comics, Ant-Man is Hank Pym, my least favorite super hero in the Marvel Universe (My absolute least favorite superhero, period, is a certain spit-curled neck-breaking alien who is teaming up with Ben Batfleck soon, so be sure to come back for that review!). He shrinks, he grows, he grows, and he shrinks. He talks to bugs. He changes costumes like Weird Al Yankovic in concert. He smacked up his wife, he operated as a superhero under his real name and wore an amazing single-color coat of lots of pockets at that time. Oh, and he invented Ultron in the comics, not Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, so he invented a nigh-unbeatable genocidal robot that calls him, “Father.” He is, in short, utterly worthless. Occasionally other characters have donned the costume and taken up the mantle, and while I just don’t care much about shrinking as a superpower, at least they were interesting characters and not wife abusing programmers of mass murdering robots. As I sat in the theater waiting for the movie to begin, I hoped that Marvel had taken lots of liberties with the character.

They didn’t change much, but what they did was just about perfect. Hank Pym is played by Michael Douglas, looking fresher than I’ve seen him n years. Here he was a scientist for Agent Carter (Hayley Atwell)-era S.H.I.E.L.D. who discovered the self-titled “Pym Particle” which could make a person or object shrink or grow. Of course Howard Stark (John Slattery) and S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan) want to weaponize the technology, so Pym hides it and goes into the private sector. Fast forward to the present and we meet Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a sharp electrical engineer but a gifted burglar who winds up in jail after a botched job offered by his amigos Luis (Michael Peña), Dave (Tip “T.I.” Harris, and Kurt (David Dastmalchian). Pym enyers his life and helps him escape by using the Ant-Man suit, powered by his “Pym Particles.” Pym enlists Lang as his agent to stop his ruthless former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) from weaponizing his own version of the Ant-Man technology, the somewhat more fearsome-looking Yellowjacket armor. Lang sees this as an opportunity to be the hero he always wanted to be for his young daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), who lives with Lang’s ex Maggie (Judy Greer) and police step-father Paxton (Bobby Cannavale), who just happens to be the lead officer in the search for escapee Lang. Helping to train Lang is Pym’s estranged daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), whose allegiances are somewhat ambiguous.

While ANT-MAN isn’t better than the huge team ensembles or CAPTAIN AMERICA 2 or the first IRON MAN, it does have a lot going for it. Paul Rudd makes Scott Lang likeable much the way Chris Pratt made Peter Quill so cool in GUARDIANS, goofy, irrepressible charm. You can’t help but root for the guy as he tries to save his daughter, stop the crazy bad guy, stay out of jail, and redeem his soul.  His former partners in crime become his partners in heroics, and Michael Peña is so funny they need to come up with a way to make him Ant-Man’s permanent sidekick. The trio could be to the Marvel films what the Lone Gunmen were the X-FILES series. Michael Douglas plays Pym to perfection, adroitly juggling this Pym’s multiple roles as a driven scientist, hurting father and curmudgeonly old man. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed Douglas so much since THE GAME, and that was a long time ago. Evangeline Lilly has great chemistry with each of her costars. The suits look cool and the special effects, while unavoidably making you recall HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS! (sadly, no Rick Moranis cameos) are quite good. I’ve always been a sucker for heist capers and there are two such heists here to enjoy. Kudos to the film distributor who sent my screening the wrong print—I was encouraged to remove my much-despised 3D glasses about 5 minutes into the movie when it became apparent that this particular showing was in glorious 2D!

On the other hand, Corey Stull, while he doesn’t do anything wrong, isn’t asked to be much more than a knockoff of Norman Osborn, aka The Green Goblin. He’s a rich industrialist who gives himself power at the expense of his sanity. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s been done and Stoll doesn’t exude the same cool menace as, say, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. The film could have been used to help bolster interest in ABC’s AGENT CARTER series but they barely do as much as mention Carter by name. I wouldn’t have minded a little longer exploration of Pym’s on career as a “mystery man” with his wife Janet, which would have been a great way to give Hayley Atwell some additional screen time. The worst part of the film, for me, was Paxton the step-dad. He’s a much better step-father than he is a cop. He might be the worst cop I’ve ever seen in a movie, and I’ve seen all of the POLICE ACADEMY movies. It’s so bad that it pulled me out of the narrative more than once. Bobby Cannavale is an Emmy winner. He should be able to portray a credible cop in his sleep. I think this one falls at the feet of director Peyton Reed.

On the whole it’s a solid entry in the Marvel milieu, with plenty of potential. I almost forgot to mention Howard Mackie’s cameo as the Falcon, so there’s another mark in the plus column. Yes, there’s a Stan Lee cameo. Yes, there are scenes in the end credits, stay to the very end. And yes, there’s heart in this one. Rudd and Douglas make a fine leading duo and there are some touching moments as well as some laugh-out-loud funny ones. If you can get past the incredibly poor police work (and you should, everyone in the movie does), you should find ANT-MAN to be surprisingly enjoyable. I hope you do, because he’ll appear in a few more Marvel films before it’s all said and done.​

If you’re like me and you don’t want to know much about the film before you see it, well, go see it! If you’re the type that searches for every trailer you can find, I have you covered:

Grade: 
4.0 / 5.0