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Awesome: 4.55%
Worth A Look77.27%
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2 reviews, 10 user ratings

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by Brett Gallman

"A welcome change of pace--when it wants to be."
4 stars

There’s a hint of irony to “Ant-Man” being centered on the development of a formula.

Much has been made in recent months about the formulaic approach Marvel itself has refined over the past seven years, particularly its role in perhaps stifling voices in favor of a “house style.” With “Ant-Man,” that struggle unfolds on the screen, laid bare in the film’s desire to go literally and figuratively go smaller while still clinging to the outer fringes of the larger universe the studio has built. Despite the odds, the former wins out, as “Ant-Man” is a refreshing change of pace that remains just familiar enough to slide into the Marvel machine.

The in-movie formula in question belongs to Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a brilliant scientist whose breakthroughs in molecular structure enable him to shrink down to insectoid size and become a shadowy super solider during the twilight of the Cold War. Sensing that his technology is being wrested into the wrong hands, he resigns his station in SHIELD during on ominous prologue. Featuring a handful of cameos and name-drops, the scene threatens to position “Ant-Man” as the latest theater for Marvel’s exhausting earth-shattering stakes—this only a couple of months removed from the Avengers dropping a city out of the sky.

When the film speeds ahead about fifteen years, it begins to hone in on the more intimate scale the MCU has missed since the first “Iron Man.” It’s perhaps no coincidence that “Ant-Man” shares some of that film’s DNA, as it returns to a world of tech and weapons magnates concerned with how their discoveries may be wielded. Having been ousted from his company years before, Pym returns once he suspects that his former protégé (Corey Stoll) and estranged daughter (Evangeline Lilly) have stumbled onto his secret formula and intend to flip it to the highest bidder. In order to retrieve the formula and sabotage the creation of an updated, more weaponized suit, Pym turns to Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), an ex-con recently released from San Quentin for a Robin Hood inspired burglary, to become his successor and stage a daring heist.

Even though “Ant-Man” hints at the usual HYDRA-related doom expected of Marvel, it hangs back and allows them to (mostly) rest on the horizon for now. Replacing them is a relatively small film about fathers attempting to reconcile with their daughters and create lasting legacies to outrun troubled pasts. Its first major action sequence is set in a bathtub, and exactly one building explodes during its runtime, rightly sparing us another round of apocalyptic ash and rubble. “Ant-Man” is more worried about frayed relationships than it is with crumbling buildings.

This is not to say the MCU hasn’t been invested in such drama before—it’s just that, with the possible exception of Thor and Loki’s sibling rivalry in “The Dark World,” it hasn’t felt as vital to the proceedings as it does here. Granted, it requires the film to indulge in other familiar formulas: Scott’s life becomes a bizarre mixture of soap opera and sitcom as he juggles his ex-wife’s (Judy Greer, sadly underutilized in another blockbuster this summer) decision to date a cop (Bobby Cannavale) and his ex-con roommate’s (Michael Pena) attempts to pull him back into the criminal game. “Ant-Man” might feel unique within the context of this uber-franchise, but it’s evident that Marvel has once again re-appropriated familiarity and repackaged it.

The studio’s ability to continually crank out slight variations on recognizable themes has been crucial in their endeavor remaining vital as its mythology becomes further tangled and predisposed towards massive payoffs. Every Marvel film may have the same essential destination, but they take different routes dictated by one roadmap. There’s little question that Kevin Feige has drawn up that map, though there is a question of just how much he and the Marvel overlords are steering each car.

To its credit, Marvel has at least presented the opportunity for distinct voices to creep through, and “Ant-Man” arguably supplies the most by sheer volume: originally shepherded to the screen by Edgar Wright (who, along with co-writer Joe Cornish, still earns a story credit), the film is ultimately a Frankenstein effort, with Rudd and Adam McKay supplying their own screenwriting contributions for director Peyton Reed.

When confronting a preponderance of familiar formulas—and the script adds heist and shrinking movie subplots along the way—you could do worse than having this cast and crew attempt to shout it down. Anchored by Rudd, the film thrives on a genuine, bouncy wit. As Lang, he assumes the mantle of a reluctant but charming hero (his humorous refusal to Pym’s call is and the most natural reaction imaginable) offers a street-level, everyman perspective that Marvel Comics build an empire upon.

Rudd particularly flourishes in his exasperation at the situation surrounding him (his reaction to waking up in a strange bed is to wonder whose pajamas he’s wearing, for example) before finally yielding to it and becoming a sort of Tony Stark-lite wiseass. Both Rudd and Reed especially zero in on the star’s inherent niceness and rarely stray from it, even as the character battles adversity ranging from Baskin Robbins background checks to a laser-spitting megalomaniac.

The roster surrounding Rudd is deep, allowing him to bounce off of people just as he does walls during the action sequences. Douglas is another dignified center as Pym; less a weary warrior and more a melancholy old man grappling with regret, he’s one of the more unlikely Marvel heroes, but the script reserves one of its most rousing moments for him.

As the film bounds from one mode to another, it threads familiar arcs (Rudd’s icy, contentious relationship with Cannavale is practically set to melt on cue) and moments, many of them belonging to (or perhaps seized by) Pena’s twitchy, motor-mouthed accomplice. He’s especially a hoot during a meticulously paced heist sequence that benefits from his amusing shtick, which provides levity throughout.

In this respect, Reed doesn’t lean too heavily on a loose, Apatow-esque improv style. While it’s evident (if not inevitable) that some passages are the result of the cast riffing on-set, the director often assumes control with visual humor and clever editing to coax laughs. He doesn’t simply train his camera on his funny performers and have them talk; in fact, one of the film’s best bits is a stylized, montaged game of telephone as Pena breathlessly recounts stories to a bemused Rudd. His visual ingenuity extends to the kinetic action sequences, here rendered with a unique, sprightly energy so they don’t feel like obligatory motions for viewers to trudge through during the climax.

Shifting perspective obviously plays a role in enlivening Marvel’s third-act doldrums. Reed doesn’t just swap out a grandiose sandbox for a smaller one, though, as the environments come alive, supplying scale-related gags that escalate in absurdity. By the time a giant-sized ant is roaming suburbia, it’s hard to miss the faint echo of Joe Dante, another voice that’s blended into the raucous melody that is “Ant-Man,” a film whose capper begins on the tracks of a Thomas the Train set and shrinks even further to an existential, subatomic plane where a conflict is resolved by the sound of a daughter’s voice longing for her father. Where so many blockbusters—including Marvel’s own “Age of Ultron”—are fixated on going bigger, “Ant-Man” hitches itself to a more refreshing, recent trend of summer movies (“Fury Road,” “Inside-Out,” “Magic Mike XXL”) opting for small stakes that resonate in a huge way.

It doesn’t come without a bit of shagginess—its setup is leaden with clunky exposition, and it relies a bit too much on Stoll to bring pathos to an underwritten villain role—but its rollicking verve and temerity (at one point, Rudd mounts a flying ant and commands an entire insect fleet) even allow it to skirt around awkward, seemingly mandated connections to the larger universe. Both the prologue and an extended cameo from an Avenger feel designed to reassure viewers about its place in the grand scheme of things—and this is not to mention the now hotly anticipated credits tags, the last of which declares Ant-Man will return for “Civil War,” Marvel’s next round of mayhem (a mid-credits stinger that hints at the studio finally shedding its reluctance about female superheroes is more exciting).

Insisting that “Ant-Man” fit into a larger puzzle has its merits, insomuch as it confirms this mega-franchise has imitated its comic book roots. Two years ago, some wondered where the Avengers were hanging out during the events of “Iron Man 3;” ever since, it seems like Marvel has been all too eager to account for at least some of them through cameos or off-hand mentions. Just as it is in the source material, it seems like each entry is open for some sort of cross-over. With “Ant-Man,” it almost feels driven by insecurity, as if the studio weren’t sure it could stand alone. A look at the final cut should have provided reassurance—the big cameo here is neat but distracting, a throwback to the days when Marvel labored to set up its shared universe with detours “Iron Man 2” and “Thor.”

Mercifully, the digression here isn’t nearly as overwhelming: “Ant-Man” goes on to do bigger—er, smaller—and better things once it serves this master. Between this, “The Dark World,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” one has to wonder if Marvel hasn’t introduced a bit of a wrinkle to their formula, a sort of “one for them, one for us” model that follows up a headliner with somewhat weirder, more daring B-sides.

While they’ll all eventually be subsumed by the Greatest Hits package, it’s nice that the studio can cleanse its palette every now and then, and few things represent that more than a willingness to bring “Ant-Man” to the screen. Even a solid formula requires a risk every now and then, even if Marvel is careful to only stray so far.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27061&reviewer=429
originally posted: 07/17/15 00:05:43
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User Comments

12/26/17 Dr. Lao Its not "Captain America," but its far from "The Hulk" 4 stars
2/13/17 morris campbell not bad addition 2 the marvel movies 4 stars
11/18/15 meep Standard and boring 2 stars
11/08/15 Oz1701 dull and unoriginal - maybe if i hadnt seen a marvel film before i might have thought other 2 stars
10/04/15 G. Very funny! I was pleasantly surprised to see it turn out this well. 4 stars
8/27/15 Laura I thought it was very funny, and entertaining. I really enjoyed it. 5 stars
8/24/15 DillonG A breath of fresh air for the Marvel movies. Paul Rudd nails it. 4 stars
8/22/15 The Big D Hank Pym's the only (Gi-)Ant Man, and industries that aid national security are heroes! 1 stars
8/10/15 KingNeutron They should have hired Leguizamo and NOT DESTROYED THE VILLAIN, he was great 4 stars
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  17-Jul-2015 (PG-13)
  DVD: 08-Dec-2015

  17-Jul-2015 (12A)

  16-Jul-2015 (PG)
  DVD: 08-Dec-2015

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