Friday, July 17, 2015

A Reel Review: ANT-MAN

Every movie based on a comic-book superhero asks us to buy into a lot; gods and monsters, masked vigilantes, men and women from space, supercomputers and outlandish technology…these films all need to do a bit of selling for the movie to be enjoyed. In the case of the adaptation of one of Marvel Comics’ oldest and classic and bizarre characters, ANT-MAN, the idea of a hero who shrinks to the size of an insect just may the hardest sell of them all. Or is it? 

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is a professional thief who stumbles upon a suit which can shrink the wearer down to ant-size with super-strength. Rudd discovers that he has been under the close eye of Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who invented the suit and wants Scott to become the ANT-MAN and keep the technology away from Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). 

The best superhero films are the ones which cross-pollinate their stories with another genre. Marvel Studios has spent nearly a decade mashing their properties up with genres such as sci-fi, fantasy, techno-thrillers, horror, war, and espionage…and this time around tries a new one: the heist film. ANT-MAN at its core is heavily inspired by the classic heist-films of old, as Pym recruits Scott to steal the technology away from Cross, who is eventually revealed to have sinister intentions. Beyond the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – ish plot, ANT-MAN also introduces a family dynamic which grounds the ridiculousness of a shrinking hero; both Pym and Lang have daughters and lost loves which serve as their motivations for all of the high-concept wizardry. It is surprisingly emotional and clicks very well. 

The first act of the film is a bit of a slog as it finds its footing, but the compensation in the second-act and the finale is more than worth it. Director Peyton Reed has put together a very fun film with plenty of laughs and eye-popping action sequences. He smartly cuts away from the scenes taking place in miniature-land to normal-size land to give a sense of scale and it gives the film a very realistic feel. Visual effects are a treat from the scaled-down environments to the ants Lang eventually has to work with, but the real big-wow of the film happens in the prologue; a flashback sequence which de-ages Michael Douglas about 30 years back to his WALL STREET days. The effect is breathtaking and convincing, and is a giant leap forward for the de-aging technology movies have only been toying with so far. 

Douglas himself is great in the film as he adds a strong sense of fatherhood and maturity which again makes the silliness of a tiny guy more palatable. The screen veteran seems to be having fun and can still pack a punch in more ways than one. Paul Rudd in his first heroic turn is well-cast and handles his tasks as a man-out-of-place and as a father nicely. Evangeline Lilly, as Pym’s daughter, is also effective despite the stupid haircut, and gets the best line in the movie during the first post-credit stinger. Corey Stoll is a little one-note as a greedy capitalist just looking to make a buck more than he is being evil, but he handles the role brilliantly and may have a future as a Bond villain. The rest of the cast, including Michael Pena, Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, and a few other surprises…are all perfect. 

Perhaps the smartest approach Marvel has taken with ANT-MAN is that they don’t try to follow-up their previous few films by going bigger with more characters, higher stakes, and thicker plots…and instead goes more intimate with simpler plot and lower stakes. This is a small adventure taking place in a large world, which makes it one of the more unique Marvel films to date. It is fun, memorable, very much human, and most important of all…has a little storytelling to do. 


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