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Monday, July 20, 2015

Ant-Man

ANT-MAN

** SPOILERS **

Leave it to Marvel to mix one of their least well-known C-list superheroes with a heist film in the vein of Ocean's Eleven and the Thomas Crown Affair and knock it out of the park. Ant-Man continues Marvel Studios' incredible track record. Ant-Man is a jolly superhero tome about an underdog who gains the use of some of the strangest superpowers in the Marvel Universe. The Ant-Man is Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, getting full use of his real life superpower: likeability), a down on his luck cat burglar who spent three years in prison for stealing from an evil corporation stomping on the little guy. Despite his Masters degree in electrical engineering, there's not much of a future for an ex-con, not even at Baskin-Robbins. Lang yearns to be reunited with his young daughter, and the chance to be all that he could be falls into his lap when he burgles the San Francisco home of an eccentric old billionaire scientist. Inside the scientist's vault, Lang finds not money or jewels but an "old motorcycle suit" and helmet from the 1970s. Donning the suit in the bathroom of his flophouse hotel room, Lang experiences probably the best kind of shrinkage a guy could hope for.

The billionaire owner of the Ant-Man suit is Henry Pym (Michael Douglas), a brilliant inventor who once worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. decades ago but quit when he saw S.H.I.E.L.D. looking to exploit his greatest creation, the Pym Particles, which can breach the space between atoms and allow people to shrink, even to a subatomic level. S.H.I.E.L.D., and later his protege the devious Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), intend to weaponize the Pym Particles to create an army of shrinking super soldiers. Pym engineers the events of Lang burgling his home as a test; he intends Lang to become the new Ant-Man and "break into [Cross' company] and steal a bunch of shit." Ant-Man does a hell of a job convincing the viewer that this seemingly silly shrinking tech is indeed incredibly dangerous and that an army of tiny soldiers and saboteurs you can't see coming could destabilize world peace if it falls into the wrong hands. When wearing the Ant-Man suit, Pym in the 1970s and Lang today actually has awesome power: the super strength of an ant where a 200 lb man even in ant-size can strike a normal sized human with the impact of a bullet. Plus, the Ant-Man has the means to communicate with ants, making these industrious, loyal creatures do his bidding. Ant-Man manages to convince that ants are actually kind of cool. 

Along with being a fun heist film, Ant-Man is about fathers and daughters. Mirroring Lang's quest to earn his daughter's love, Pym must reconnect with his estranged daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who spies on Cross for him while nursing a lifelong resentment over the death of her mother Janet Van Dyne. Hope takes a withering view of Lang as her father's new protege, and it naturally takes the characters a lot longer than it takes the audience to realize that Hope and Lang are meant for each other. Some of the biggest laughs in the movie come from Lang interjecting himself in the Pym-Van Dyne father daughter drama, especially when he ruins their big moment of tearful reconciliation. For his part, Lang is a quick learner, be it learning how to take a punch from Hope or mirroring her cool flying head scissors takedown moves when he's in battle as the Ant-Man. Darren Cross harbors his own deep seeded anger at Pym for years of lying to him about the existence of the Ant-Man tech. Cross developed his own imperfect shrinking suit, the Yellowjacket, but use of the tech without Pym's special helmet can cause the wearer to go insane. Go insane Cross does; he's quick to murder by zapping enemies into a tiny pile of goo with his shrink ray, and he can't wait to try to kill Lang's daughter when Lang foils his scheme to sell the Yellowjacket tech to Hydra.

Speaking of Hydra, Ant-Man is steeped in Marvel Universe lore, but elegantly juggles its connections to previous Marvel films while still barreling full speed ahead as a tidy superhero adventure. When we first meet Hank Pym, it's in 1989, and we gasp in astonishment at a de-aged Michael Douglas meeting with Howard Stark (John Slattery) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) at the under-construction Triskelion, the S.H.I.E.L.D. fortress we saw destroyed in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Pym couldn't have known, but perhaps suspected, that one of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s big wigs (Martin Donovan) was secretly a member of Hydra, as we learn many S.H.I.E.L.D. agents were. The big secret Pym kept from Hope all these years was that her mother was his partner in shrinkage, the Wasp, who saved the world from a nuclear missile by shrinking to the sub-atomic level and becoming lost forever in "the quantum field." And of course, the Avengers loom large over Ant-Man, with Lang not only outright suggesting calling the Avengers but actually winning a patented Marvel superhero brawl with an Avenger, the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and "not dying." We learn during the closing credits that the Avengers will come calling for the Ant-Man's help in the upcoming Civil War sooner than later.

More than anything, Ant-Man is just entertainingly weird and fun. Director Peyton Reed, helming a screenplay by former director Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish and rewritten by Rudd and Adam McKay, keeps the action energetic and the goofy laughs coming. Lang's heists are accompanied by his three scene stealing goofball partners, Michael Pena (who kills in every moment he opens his mouth), David Dastmalcian, and T.I. Ant-Man manages to make Lang's flying ant, who he named "Anthony," the most lovable pet in the Marvel Universe. In Ant-Man, superhero vs. super villain battles taking place inside a briefcase inside a plummeting helicopter while an iPhone 6 plays "Plainsong" by The Cure or a climactic showdown on a Thomas The Tank Engine train set are perfectly normal. Ant-Man inherits the wit and zip of the very first Iron Man movie, melding the more bizarre aspects of last summer's Guardians of the Galaxy, and brings it all down to Earth, in a teeny, tiny fashion. As the finale of Marvel's cinematic Phase 2, it's a definitive statement of the successful Marvel formula, that Marvel can take one of the strangest things in their comics and make a crowd-pleasing superhero movie. Things can only get bigger for Ant-Man in Phase 3 if and when he assembles with the Avengers.

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