Worth A Look: 77.27%
Just Average: 0%
Pretty Crappy: 13.64%
2 reviews, 10 user ratings
by Brett Gallman
Thereâ€™s a hint of irony to â€śAnt-Manâ€ť 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 â€śhouse style.â€ť With â€śAnt-Man,â€ť that struggle unfolds on the screen, laid bare in the filmâ€™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 â€śAnt-Manâ€ť is a refreshing change of pace that remains just familiar enough to slide into the Marvel machine.
"A welcome change of pace--when it wants to be."
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 â€śAnt-Manâ€ť as the latest theater for Marvelâ€™s exhausting earth-shattering stakesâ€”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 â€śIron Man.â€ť Itâ€™s perhaps no coincidence that â€śAnt-Manâ€ť shares some of that filmâ€™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 protĂ©gĂ© (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 â€śAnt-Manâ€ť 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. â€śAnt-Manâ€ť is more worried about frayed relationships than it is with crumbling buildings.
This is not to say the MCU hasnâ€™t been invested in such drama beforeâ€”itâ€™s just that, with the possible exception of Thor and Lokiâ€™s sibling rivalry in â€śThe Dark World,â€ť it hasnâ€™t felt as vital to the proceedings as it does here. Granted, it requires the film to indulge in other familiar formulas: Scottâ€™s life becomes a bizarre mixture of soap opera and sitcom as he juggles his ex-wifeâ€™s (Judy Greer, sadly underutilized in another blockbuster this summer) decision to date a cop (Bobby Cannavale) and his ex-con roommateâ€™s (Michael Pena) attempts to pull him back into the criminal game. â€śAnt-Manâ€ť might feel unique within the context of this uber-franchise, but itâ€™s evident that Marvel has once again re-appropriated familiarity and repackaged it.
The studioâ€™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. Thereâ€™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 â€śAnt-Manâ€ť 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 formulasâ€”and the script adds heist and shrinking movie subplots along the wayâ€”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 Pymâ€™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 heâ€™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 starâ€™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, heâ€™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 (Ruddâ€™s icy, contentious relationship with Cannavale is practically set to melt on cue) and moments, many of them belonging to (or perhaps seized by) Penaâ€™s twitchy, motor-mouthed accomplice. Heâ€™s especially a hoot during a meticulously paced heist sequence that benefits from his amusing shtick, which provides levity throughout.
In this respect, Reed doesnâ€™t lean too heavily on a loose, Apatow-esque improv style. While itâ€™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 doesnâ€™t simply train his camera on his funny performers and have them talk; in fact, one of the filmâ€™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 donâ€™t feel like obligatory motions for viewers to trudge through during the climax.
Shifting perspective obviously plays a role in enlivening Marvelâ€™s third-act doldrums. Reed doesnâ€™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, itâ€™s hard to miss the faint echo of Joe Dante, another voice thatâ€™s blended into the raucous melody that is â€śAnt-Man,â€ť 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 daughterâ€™s voice longing for her father. Where so many blockbustersâ€”including Marvelâ€™s own â€śAge of Ultronâ€ťâ€”are fixated on going bigger, â€śAnt-Manâ€ť hitches itself to a more refreshing, recent trend of summer movies (â€śFury Road,â€ť â€śInside-Out,â€ť â€śMagic Mike XXLâ€ť) opting for small stakes that resonate in a huge way.
It doesnâ€™t come without a bit of shagginessâ€”its setup is leaden with clunky exposition, and it relies a bit too much on Stoll to bring pathos to an underwritten villain roleâ€”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 thingsâ€”and this is not to mention the now hotly anticipated credits tags, the last of which declares Ant-Man will return for â€śCivil War,â€ť Marvelâ€™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 â€śAnt-Manâ€ť 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 â€śIron Man 3;â€ť 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 â€śAnt-Man,â€ť it almost feels driven by insecurity, as if the studio werenâ€™t sure it could stand alone. A look at the final cut should have provided reassuranceâ€”the big cameo here is neat but distracting, a throwback to the days when Marvel labored to set up its shared universe with detours â€śIron Man 2â€ť and â€śThor.â€ť
Mercifully, the digression here isnâ€™t nearly as overwhelming: â€śAnt-Manâ€ť goes on to do biggerâ€”er, smallerâ€”and better things once it serves this master. Between this, â€śThe Dark World,â€ť and â€śGuardians of the Galaxy,â€ť one has to wonder if Marvel hasnâ€™t introduced a bit of a wrinkle to their formula, a sort of â€śone for them, one for usâ€ť model that follows up a headliner with somewhat weirder, more daring B-sides.While theyâ€™ll all eventually be subsumed by the Greatest Hits package, itâ€™s nice that the studio can cleanse its palette every now and then, and few things represent that more than a willingness to bring â€śAnt-Manâ€ť to the screen. Even a solid formula requires a risk every now and then, even if Marvel is careful to only stray so far.
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originally posted: 07/17/15 00:05:43
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