Friday, July 17, 2015


Ant-Man marks a departure for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy, which takes place deep in outer space and far from the films that feed into The Avengers movies, every Marvel project to this point has centered around a classic Marvel character that fits a rather well-used pre-designed Silver Age mold. Rather than center another film around a genius scientist turned hero, Ant-Man casts Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) as the weathered former hero choosing instead to focus the plot of the movie on his less straight-laced successor Scott Lang (Paul Rudd).

The recently paroled thief struggling to put his life in order and spend time with his young daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), Lang is offered a chance by Pym to become the new Ant-Man. With the help of the scientist and his daughter (Evangeline Lilly), and a few of his formerly incarcerated friends (Michael Peña, David Dastmalchian, T.I.), Lang stumbles through his training to learn what it means to manipulate both his size and mass along with the insects which he can now command thanks to to the proprietary Pym Particles and the suit's helmet.

The need for a new Ant-Man, and the major conflict in the story, comes from Pym's old assistant Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) who has spent decades trying to recreate the breakthrough that Pym was unwilling to sell to the highest bidder. With Cross' research nearly complete, Pym needs Lang's help to steal his successor's prototype, destroy the lab, and keep Ant-Man's secrets from falling into the wrong hands. It's here that Ant-Man struggles the most with a conflict and final confrontation that is nearly note-for-note identical to that of the first Iron Man pitting Lang against a less interesting version of Obadiah Stone (Jeff Bridges) who is only missing the long black mustache and damsel tied to the railroad tracks to complete his role as the one-dimensional cliched bad guy.

Very much a middle-of-the-road super-hero movie, Ant-Man works best when centered around Rudd's character. That said, given how much time it takes Scott to get used to the suit we're stuck with a pretty vanilla super-hero origin story for three-fourths of the movie (highlighted here or there by some mildly amusing gags, an unnecessary subplot involving Scott's ex-wife's new boyfriend, and a well thought-out and executed heist sequence which the film could have used far more of).

Peña and the rest of his prison pals help add some humor to the mix but they are so over-the-top it's nearly impossible to take them seriously. Lilly is fine as Hope van Dyne but because of her daddy issues and her use as an obvious a love interest for Scott (in your basic hate the guy until you fall for him romcom angle) that she isn't given much of anything to do except in relation to either Rudd or Douglas' characters. And in a bit of unnecessary fan service the movie includes cameoes from both Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell in some cheap old-age make-up) and Howard Stark (John Slattery) that introduce a conflict between a younger Pym and his peers the movie introduces but has neither the time nor inclination to fully develop.

Once Lang is in full control of his new abilities the film can begin to properly showcase just what the hero can accomplish. It's just sad it takes so damn long to get there. The trouble is we're well into the movie's final act before the story reaches the point where Lang can begin to control the suit properly. That means although the film delivers a pair of great actions scenes, both are set during the movie's final 20 minutes after a very long wait. It also doesn't help that so many of the film's biggest jokes and unique settings of the climactic action sequences (which are the most original we've seen done in a Marvel film to date) were given away so freely in the movie's trailers.

Ant-Man was what I was expecting. No more. No less. If I'm ranking the Marvel Studios movies I'd put Ant-Man somewhere between Thor and its less-effective sequel. Although still entertaining, due mainly to Rudd's innate likability and the movie's unique action sequences, it's a far cry from the peak that Marvel Studios hit with The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier which seem further and further out of reach with each successive movie. And despite having a humourous Avenger-ish cameo in the film I've got to admit the completely out-of-context post-credit sequence left me cold and did nothing to make me believe Marvel can stop this slide leading into the problematic Captain America: Civil War which will only have the help of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to properly lay its foundation.

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