Friday, July 17, 2015

Summer Cinema: Ant-Man

Marvel's Ant-Man opens today and is expected to gross a healthy if not record breaking $60 million bucks at the box office. It's been a long road to the big screen with Edgar Wright's surprise exit after working on the flick for nearly a decade. Apparently the helmer of Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim VS The World and The World's End just didn't want to fit his story into the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe. Peyton Reed, a director known for comedies like Bring It On, The Break Up and an unmade Fantastic Four film stepped in last minute, revised the script and got production underway. Like Guardians of the Galaxy, many were expecting Ant-Man to be Marvel's first film folly but just might be a prime example of what their films should be given their track record. It's a light, fun and entertaining affair with a simple, straight ahead story, a terrific cast, clever set pieces and consistent laughs.

We open back in the 80's where Dr. Hank Pym, brilliant scientist and creator of the Pym Particles (make you big or small, super strong, etc) is telling SHIELD to kiss his ass. Played by a de-aged Michael Douglas, Pym doesn't want his scientific creation to become a weapon. Cut to today where burglar with a cause Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is getting out of prison and trying to stay out of trouble but his former cellmate Luis (a scene stealing Michael Pena) keeps hearing about lucrative job opportunities. Wanting to provide for his separated daughter and be a good dad, Lang agrees to a job that's actually a test put together by Douglas's Pym. Pym wants Lang to pick up the mantle of Ant-Man (small like one, controls armies of them) in order to stop his former protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) who has replicated Pym's work and is ready to sell it to the highest bidder. Hank and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) then help train Lang to use the suit and lead his insect army to break into Cross' complex and destroy his work.

While it's been 15 years since X-Men kick started a new wave in cinema, I think Ant-Man has finally gotten things right when it comes to the comic book movie. At least in the Marvel movie tradition. I've always thought their approach was a little too jokey as any dramatic scene is instantly dispelled by humor so there's never any tension. But it's perfect for Ant-Man's lighter vibe and simple origin story mixed with the light drama of two fathers trying to care for their daughters with some action, comedy and spectacle. While origin tales in Spider-Man, Hulk and The Punisher movies lead to some near mind numbing character development and non-action, Ant moves fast and benefits from Hank Pym's having already played the character offscreen and passing on the mantle. Scenes where Scott shrinks down and learns to use his abilities are well done and show mundane activities like taking a shower or dancing being deadly obstacle courses. While his four types of ant army help him build, fly or attack their way through San Francisco. Fight scenes are quick and big as in his miniature form, Ant-Man can lift 50 times his body weight leading to some real rock'em, sock'em moments were grown men look like they're being attacked by an invisible man. There's Marvel cameos galore but used very tactfully so I'm wondering where Wright drew the line of telling his own story and not furthering the big picture.

Reed keeps things moving and it was nice to see the revised script by Wright, Joe Cornish, Reed and Rudd focusing on the family dynamics and a one on one confrontation. Rudd is excellent as Lang in his usual likable, put upon persona while showing off his abs. Douglas is always The Man and is starting to look a lot like awesome dad Kirk. Lilly isn't your typical love interest or damsel in distress with plenty of fight and anger while Stoll just wants Hank's approval while going crazy from his Pym Particle knock off. Michael Pena steals nearly every scene he's in as the excited but dim witted buddy and there's a funny couple of "telephone"/"my friend told me" stories he narrates.

With no real expectations, Ant-Man proved to be a great time at the summer cinema for two hours. Be sure to stay after the credits as there are two stingers that actually add to the future films versus just playing for laughs.

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