Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"Ant-Man" Review - A Decidedly Smaller Venture From The Usual Grand Scale Superhero Spectacle


Marvel has worked very hard to establish their brand as the end all be all of superheroes depicted on the big screen. They have an extremely elaborate web of interconnecting films that will introduce new characters whilst bidding a fond farewell to other established ones all in the name of creating the much publicized MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). Over the course of the past 7 years starting with the very first Iron Man back in 2008, Marvel has made great strides to have their product seen as something more than simple superhero movies and are always pushing the envelope as to what we expect from them. That is what makes their latest superhero venture Ant-Man that much more of an anonmoly as it's decidedly smaller scale and simplistic nature feels oddly out of place in the more expansive MCU. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: Digital 2D             
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime: 1 hr 57 min
Studio: Marvel Studios
Release Date: July 17, 2015

Biases:  
Loves: Most of the Marvel movies, The MCU
Likes: Michael Douglas, Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll
Neutral:  Comedy over action
Hates: That we will never see an Edgar Wright Ant-Man
Destined to be more popular than Ant-Man himself? Luis and his many stories.


Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) has just gotten out of prison after serving a jail sentence for burglary. While his friend and former cellmate Luis (Michael Pena) may have other nefarious plans for Scott's newfound freedom, Scott is more interested in going down the long path of redemption in hopes of rekindling his relationship with his daughter, something his ex-wife (Judy Greer) and her cop husband (Bobby Cannavale) are a little weary of. After getting fired from the local Baskin Robin's ice cream shop though (Baskin Robins always knows!), Scott decides to go the quick and easy path back to his daughter as he joins Luis' crew for a heist he hopes will get him the money he needs to pay all his back child support to see his daughter again.

Little does Scott know this little heist will have huge ramifications for the do-gooder crook in the form of Professor Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a former S.H.I.E.L.D. scientist who needs Scott's skillset to infiltrate a highly secure facility which houses a potentially world threatening technology being developed by Pym's former colleague Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). After a little persuading Scott finally decides to take him up on his offer and with the help of Hank's daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and some rigorous training, Scott is introduced to the Pym Particle. Armed with this single formula that allows the user to become the size of an ant at will and a suit to protect himself from the dangers of quantum space, Scott is soon ready to fulfill his destiny as the Ant-Man...hey, it wasn't his idea alright?


Marvel's Ant-Man is a strange breed of superhero film and also one of the studio's most notorious productions. After being attached to and spearheading the project for over 10 years of development long before the MCU was even a thing, acclaimed writer/director Edgar Wright took leave as director shortly before filming began (he still has a writing credit though). The dispute between Wright and Marvel was kept closely under wraps with only the vague description of a difference of opinion being cited as the reason. Regardless of the reasoning behind the split, many thought the Ant-Man film would be a failure without its creator there to nurture it into existence. Whatever Wright's Ant-Man was is just material for fanboy speculation at this point as we now have the Ant-Man movie Marvel wanted, for better or worse.

To his credit director Peyton Reed, who was brought on as a hired gun of sorts, has pulled a rabbit out of his hat and delivered a film that fits the Marvel mold almost a bit too well. The only possible complaint many could have with Ant-Man (aside from the whole Edgar Wright thing) is that the mold used to forge Ant-Man into a feature film feels oddly dated when compared to other more recent superhero films, the most recent of which being Marvel's jam packed superhero opus Avengers: Age of Ultron. While it is somewhat unfair to compare the two (Ant-Man was never conceived to be at that sort of scale), having the two release so closely together does beg some comparison.


Despite launching Marvel's Phase 3 film initiative (which will conclude with the Infinity War) looking at Ant-Man purely on a script level the film closely resembles the type of films Marvel was making way back during Phase 1 of their MCU initiative, which makes sense considering it has been in production hell for so long. In fact the entire film feels like a carbon copy throwback to those early Marvel movie formulas, especially when put side by side with the first Iron Man film of which it most closely resembles. Far fetched you say? Both films have a suit built by a genius (Stark/Pym) who must keep it's secrets out of the hands of a bald villianous meglomaniac (Jeff Bridges/Corey Stoller) who now controls the company the genius started (Stark Industries/Pym Technologies) but fails when the villain reverse engineers the technology into a bigger but inferior suit (Iron Monger/Yellow Jacket) that concludes with the two former colleagues battling it out in order to prevent said villain from using the technology for evil purposes. Take a second to soak that in.

There is a quaint nobility to Ant-Man though, due mainly to its origins being firmly rooted back before Marvel was so ambitious. While Marvel does indeed make sure we know Ant-Man is part of the MCU with a number of scenes and references to the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. such as an opening scene featuring a much younger Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) meeting with a much older Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Howard Stark (John Slaterly) or in perhaps the film's most obvious re-write from Edgar Wrights original script a scene featuring Ant-Man raiding an Avengers compound (because ya know, it makes sense). Even those constant reminders feel slightly less bloated than other recent Marvel crossover references and as a result Ant-Man feels like a more stand alone film than any other Marvel film in the past 5 years.


Another aspect that has carried over from those Iron Man comparisons (and quite possibly Edgar Wright's script) is the injection of humor into the mix. Not since the original Iron Man or even the original Thor film has a Marvel production felt so loose and free. This is made all the more clear with the casting of Paul Rudd as the lead, someone nobody would ever peg as superhero material. But the gamble worked as Rudd is the perfect guide to take us through what is essentially a superhero comedy, something I'm sure Marvel would rather not have the film labeled as. No matter what they may think of their product though, the truth of the matter is that Ant-Man may be a good superhero movie, but it is a great comedy.

From the scene stealing performance by Michael Pena to the many inspired action sequences, Ant-Man aims to put a smile on the face of everyone who sees it and it succeeds admirably. Usually when you come away from a superhero film you would recall all the amazing special effects or who fought who better or which action scene was your favorite, that's not the case with Ant-Man. Try not cracking a grin every time you replay Luis' absurd explanations in your head or the light comedic interplay between Rudd and Douglas. Now you might be thinking that the action at the very least is your traditional comic book stuff though, but you would be wrong there as well.


Most likely to the dismay of those looking for epic battles between their heroes and villains, Ant-Man's action scenes, while expertly choregraphed and backed by a number of interesting visual elements, are more comical and sometimes straight up bizarre in nature. Seeing two pint-sized guys battling atop a toy Thomas the Train engine is downright hilarious but what had me in stitches the most is when a tiny Yellow Jacket was smacked right into a bug zapper complete with a wimpy defeated bug sound effect to cap it off. The film uses the absurd idea of growing small for all its worth through a number of well executed action scenes that may lack the bombastic oomph behind other superhero brawls but make up the difference by delivering the most visually interesting throwdowns you are likely to ever see in any movie.

Ant-Man will not see the surprise success of last summer's Guardians of the Galaxy nor will it see the success of any film from Marvel's roster. The reason being is that for all its minor successes with casting and landing a more than capable last second director like Peyton Reed, Ant-Man just doesn't have that mass appeal all the other Marvel superheroes do. Paul Rudd is a likable and gifted comedic actor, but he will likely never draw a crowd like Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans or even Chris Pratt. Likewise for the actual character of Ant-Man, whose appeal is extremely limited between those who aren't immediately turned off by all the ants and those who find the idea behind the character just too darn silly to warrant any interest. Ant-Man is strictly a niche superhero in the grand scheme of things, but perhaps that is all he was ever meant to be.


Just about the only thing anyone can knock Ant-Man for is being a bit too...predictable. While it's true that all superhero origin stories follow a similar formula (hero starts out down the wrong path, hero hits all time low, hero discovers an inner strength, hero only becomes hero to right a wrong of either someone else or of their own doing, hero must learn that self sacrifice is the key to unlocking their true self worth, hero saves the day), Ant-Man somehow manages to go it's entire length without offering one single surprise. Even the now perfunctory end credit tags at the end of every Marvel film aren't all that surprising here. While the film is a lot of fun overall, it would have been appreciated if Marvel or Peyton Reed did something a little different to make it stand out from the crowd a bit more (perhaps that is where the Edgar Wright script was going...).

Luckily Marvel is in a position where they can afford to make a film like Ant-Man. They didn't need it to be a massive blockbuster (although they would have probably been fine with that). They didn't need it to change the way we see superhero movies like Guardians did. What they got though is an extremely fun little film that does an effective job at not only being a stand alone product but also introduces a character into the MCU fold unlike any other out there. While Ant-Man may do fine during its initial run, I am willing to bet that after the character starts popping up into future MCU enterprises that many will go back and discover this fantastically fun little superhero flick that is unlike anything else out there.



FINAL THOUGHTS:

While we will forever ponder over what the Edgar Wright Ant-Man could have been, there is no doubt that what we got is still a really fun movie. It won't set any records and it won't ever be in the top echelon of Marvel superhero movies, but none of that takes away the fact that in its own way Ant-Man is a massive success simply because it didn't fail when so many were expecting it to. Ant-Man aims to please and on that level alone it succeeds.

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