Friday, July 31, 2015

Review: Ant-Man

One of the admirable aspects of the comic book-inspired shared-universe model of Marvel Studios' so-called "Marvel Cinematic Universe" is that as often as they pump out superhero movies, they do seem to make attempts to hybridize many of those superhero movies with other genres (Captain America: The First Avenger as superhero/war movie/period piece, Captain America: The Winter Soldier as superhero/conspiracy thriller, Guardians of The Galaxy as superhero/Star-Wars-style space fantasy, and so on). And, to a lesser extent, they also seem to attempt to regulate the tones of those movies; while comedy is always an element, some seem much more self-serious than others, and others much more comedic in mode.

With Ant-Man, they went for a superhero/heist movie, and the tone fell on the Guardians end of the comedic spectrum rather than the Captain America or Thor end.

It is perhaps unfortunate that the cross-pollination necessary in keeping these movies connected to the shared-universe often gets in the way of making good films, however. While Ant-Man has some cute, jokey allusions, like the title character suggesting that they call in The Avengers to save the day, or the aging scientist and inventor of the Ant-Man super-suit boasting of how its better than the Iron Man suit, some of the shared-universe stuff isn't terribly important (If this is your first Marvel movie, SHIELD performs its function as "symbol for military-industrial complex that Pym doesn't want to exploit his invention to fight wars with," and Hydra performs its function as "bad guys who want to use the technology for evil." The specifics don't matter in the least.)

Other aspects are maybe more damaging to the film as a standalone work, including an extended cameo during a scene not really worth discussing, one that is fairly dependent on one knowing at least a little bit about the Avengers, even  if one didn't watch Age of Ultron all the way to the end (Of course, given how many people see all of these movies, that may not be a concern at all; I really enjoyed the cameo, and it was a nice use of the standard fight-and-team-up formula...even if the team-up part will come in...another movie. Captain America: Civil War, I'd guess.)

Marvel Studios has done a pretty great job of finding leading men who are either charming or handsome (and, in a few cases, both) to play their superheroes, and with Paul Rudd they may have their most charming leading man so far. It probably helps that the eminently likeable actor gets to play a rather likable character, who also happens to talk a lot like a Paull Rudd-character might (Rudd shares a writing credit on the film).

He plays Scott Lang, an ex-con with a heart of gold who was sent to jail for an act of high-tech burglary, but it was rather noble burglary (the victim was a jerk, and using tehnology to exploit others). Trying to find a way to make the money he needs to pay child support in order to see his darling daughter Cassie (played by Abby Ryder Forster, who apparently lost some baby teeth while shooting, and thus way too young to play Stature for a decade or so yet), he gets coaxed into one more job by a small gang of ethnic stereotypes he shares an apartment with.

That job? Steal whatever it is in old man Hank Pym's series of basement safes, which turns out to be a super-suit. Lang properly vetted, Pym (Michael Douglas) and his distant daughter Hope (Evangeline Lily) recruit and train Lang to help them pull off the ultimate sci-fi heist: Infiltrate Pym's old company and then steal the size-changing technology based on his work, before it can be sold to the highest, no-good bidder by Corey Stoll's Darren Cross,who seems uncomfortably like Jeff Bridges' villain from Iron Man (right down to the shaved head).

The special effects are all pretty fantastic, in large part because shrinking isn't something we've seen in film in a good long time, and certainly not since digital effects made it to their most recent plateau. As much fun as the shrinking is, it's the ants that are more fantastic still, as the Pyms have recruited legions of them of various species and specialities (almost as if they all had their own super-powers). When these work best, however, is when the ants, the size-changing and the action all coalesce into bizarre set-pieces, like a shrunken Ant-Man fighting a shrunken Yellowjacket inside a brief case, or atop the toy train set of a little kids' bedroom.

As Age of Ultron proved, the Marvel movies keep getting bigger and bigger, as they search for their limit, the point at which they snap backwards or collapse upon themselves (Some viewers probably think Age of Ultron was it; if not, Captain America: Civil War looks like an even better candidate, with many more heroes than either of the Avengers films involved in its plot).

Ant-Man, obviously, goes in the opposite direction. Size is, after all, relative, and getting small–in terms of plot, focus or literal smallness–is the same as getting big. It's just different kind of extreme and, here, a very refreshing one.


Okay, Marvel stuff? I was pretty shocked to see 1989 Peggy Carter, played by again by Hayley Atwell, wearing old lady make-up, but not as much of it as she wore in Winter Soldier. I'm beginning to wish she got frozen in ice or a dose of Infinity Formula at some point, if they're going to keep using her (I'm also hopeful that there will be a film or Agent Carter series set in the 1960s or so in which we see her founding fact, this film introduces two superheroes to work with her during the earlier days of SHIELD). It's a small role, but it was one of those fun, exciting cameos that can still surprise in Marvel movies.

The fate of the Hope's mother Janet, AKA The Wasp, was pretty thoroughly telegraphed (I was almost wondering if Scott would bring her back from the trippy Microvers with him at the climax), but it was nice to see Janet Van Dyne in action as The Wasp (albeit briefly) and see Hope awarded her own Wasp costume (albeit at the end of the film).

I'm hopeful of a second Ant-Man film, maybe even one entitled Ant-Man and The Wasp (either way, I expect to see both of them  in any future Ant-Man movies...and any future Avengers movies).

The idea of the original Ant-Man and Wasp as "secret" Avengers fighting evil during the Cold War was pretty cool, honestly, and it's interesting that it introduces an aspect of generational heroes into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (rather than just having a huge gap between Captain America during World War II and Iron Man and his generation in the beginning of the 21st century).

More interesting still, at least from a compare and contrast perspective, is how different the MCU Hank Pym is from the comics version. He's only been Ant-Man, and thus lacks all that code-name baggage. And he didn't create Ultron, Tony Stark did. And he never smacked his wife. MCU Pym is pretty much devoid of the things that make comic book Pym a somewhat unsavory, or at least problematic, character.

Oh, and I guess that they can now introduce Bill Foster at some point, and just give him the name Giant-Man. Or Goliath. Or maybe Michael Douglas can dress up in red spandex an call himself Giant-Man? I mean, Michael Douglas has aged out of the superhero demographic, but maybe a it doesn't matter at giant size. Like, when you're a literal giant, does it matter how physically fit you are? Do you need killer abs and cut arms to beat up people when you're 100-feet tall? Surely a gigantic Michael Douglas can take down a half-dozen Jeremy Renners and Chris Pratts, right?


Brian said...

I joked on another site that the logical next step to the "heist" element here is to go the OCEAN'S ELEVEN angle and put together a bigger team. Given the number of size-changing characters, you could very easily have more than just Scott Lang's Ant-Man and Hope Pym's Wasp. Given how the problem with the Yellowjacket formula was duplicating Pym's regulator for organic matter when shrinking the space between atoms (which actually DOES make some sense – organic hydrocarbon bonds lack the crystalline structure on many nonorganic molecules, so the electromagnetic fields maintaining a particular shape are less stable as the atoms can closer because the two nuclear fundamental forces come more into play), an MCU growth formula would be an additional step beyond the functioning Pym technology. I could easily see Bill Foster introduced as Hank Pym's former assistant, maybe fired by Cross for ethical arguments along the way – and who the Ant-Man tech didn't work on for some reason or another – who ends up working out the growth kinks and becomes Goliath after reconnecting with the Pyms (the "I won't make any size jokes if you don't" line with Scott basically writes itself). With the "Cross Particles" having ended up in Hydra's hands at movie's ends (recall that Mitchell Carson pocketed them and got away) – even without a suit – there's a ready-made 'heist' for a Pym Particle-based team to go on in a sequel!

(as for Giant-Man, I would save the growth for Goliath – although I'm not adverse to Scott having to borrow some of Foster's version of the particles in a pinch at some point and making a "Gi-Ant-Man" pun...)

Robert Jazo said...

Heh, I just reviewed Ant-Man on my own blog and hit many of the same points. I really liked the heist aspects of this movie and really wish they had been expanded, perhaps even eliminating the traditional super-villain fight at the end. I am probably in the minority in this opinion though.

One little thing that bugged me was that with the movie explanation that smaller=denser=super strong I kept thinking that the giant Tommy the Train should have been super light and fragile. Of course if I keep going down that rabbit hole I start wondering why the shrunken tank wasn't also super-dense/heavy before wondering why I am spending so much time overthinking superhero science.

Hdefined said...

It was kind of a shit movie, unfinished, and the microverse stuff was absolutely pointless. The studio hyped quantum shit as being important, but they didn't show or explain anything.