Review: Ant-Man

Say hello to the little guy…

You have to hand it to Marvel Studios’ savvy marketing to push an otherwise second-tier hero into full-fledged matinee idol material (not that they haven’t attempted to try a group of them).  They managed to crib the best parts of the character’s seemingly not-exactly-family-friendly canon and wrap it all up into an all-ages package that’s sure to please not just kids but fanboys jonesin’ for super-hero action – with just the right dollop of tongue-in-cheek comedy.

Scott “Eminem” Lang…

Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, channeling a less annoyingly eager Tobey Maguire) just wants to be a responsible father to his daughter, Cassie.  However, good jobs are hard to land (especially when you’ve got a stretch at San Quentin in your CV), and what’s worse, Cassie’s stepdad happens to be a cop who’d rather see your ass in jail.

Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is a scientist whose revolutionary miniaturization technique has led him to develop a fighting suit capable of harnessing “Pym particles” to reduce the volume of matter at the molecular level while maintaining its density.  In short, a full-grown man can be shrunk into the size of an insect but still kick ass big-time.  However, a treacherous protégé intends to market said tech to the enemy (cue HYDRA) and his wife/sidekick Janet dies while in such a suit.  Now Hank is an embittered old man holed up in a San Francisco apartment along with estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly, who seems to have carried over these mad boxing skills from Real Steel).

Scott just wants to live the straight and narrow.  Badly.

When you’ve got your old crew tipping him about a most unusual job, Scott reluctantly takes it only to find himself in the possession of what seems to look like a souped-up diver’s wet-suit and a helmet that won’t look bad on a Kamen Rider.

Kamen feel the noize…let’s rock da boyz….

The reclusive Pym just happens to be observing the heist as it happens; seeing potential into this electrical engineer driven by circumstance into a life of petty crime, he then entrusts Lang with the “Ant-Man” identity with Hope dutifully playing Mr. Miyagi to Lang’s Danny LaRusso (this time,  the tone changes as the film channels the spirit of The Greatest American Hero TV series from the early ’80s)

This is riding – IN STYLE!!!!

Lang – as Ant-Man – is then given a crash-course in (bogus) entomology before being tasked to retrieve the Yellowjacket suit from the Avengers’ new HQ in upstate New York (see Avengers: Age Of Ultron); he impresses Pym by taking on – and trouncing – the Falcon.   The novelty of shrinking to minuscule size and kicking ass like a full-grown dude does wear off over time (memo to: Ray “The Atom” Palmer), so Ant-Man employs his formicid friends in varying ways:

  1. Carpenter ants for transportation and logistics
  2. Crazy ants  to suss out surveillance systems with organic EM pulses
  3. Fire ants, the bane of picnickers and Old-West torture victims, as life-rafts
  4. Bullet ants to bring serious PAIN

Yes, you’ve seen your miniaturised fight sequences happening, but none with the fluidity and scale as generously presented in Ant-Man.  Ol’ Antsy also has these Alice-in-Wonderland shuriken-type things that can enlarge (or condense) any solid object it gets in touch with (no wonder Pym has this key chain that looks like a Sherman tank!!!).  Who could imagine kids’ favourite Thomas the Tank Engine being used in such a totally bad-ass manner during the climactic fight with Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll)?

Guess you weren’t TRAINED for this inevitability….

Also notable was Lang’s inadvertent exploration of the sub-atomic state that was a great source of frustration for Pym; think about it as like a black hole, with almost inescapable gravitational forces hastening your shrinkage until a dust mote becomes as tall as Mount Everest.  On-screen, the sub-atomic state is rendered in psychedelic colours and patterns guaranteed to warrant this film a second life among stoners (if Cassie’s adopting a Labrador-sized formicidae isn’t…)

Now, it appears director Peyton Reed – best known for rom-coms – may as well be as out of his element as lead star Rudd; given that he has pretty big feet to fill in from original helmer Edgar Wright (The Cornetto Trilogy).  In Ant-Man, Reed enables Rudd to be a more tolerable version of Ryan Reynolds in his Scott Lang role; nonetheless, as proven by the Russo brothers in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (not to mention Wright himself), a CV full of yuckfests should be no hindrance for a director entrusted with a tent-pole Marvel Cinematic Universe film.  One may have thought how the original screen treatment by Wright and Joe (Attack The Block) Cornish would have dealt with Hank Pym’s rep for domestic abuse (which may not sit too well for a Summer Blockbuster™, let alone one distributed by Disney)

A solid cast fills the whole ensemble perfectly, with Michael Pena as the loquacious scheme leader Luis practically stealing the show with his trains of thought.  The pacing is adequate, the action sequences leavened by well-place comic bits meant to ground the characters without coming off as emotionally  manipulative.  The music is also well-chosen – kinda loved that Latin instrumental number somewhere around  the first third and that surf-flavoured instrumental over the end-credits sounds cool – it’s a welcoming sign when the MCU’s musical department has stopped paying attention to “what they think fanboys listen most”.

Fanboys would be also pleased not just by the end-credit sequences – of which there are two, one occurring a third of the way through, and another at the very very end, both establishing Ant-Man’s place in the MCU. There are also a number of Easter eggs scattered throughout the film – one such throw-away line from Darren Cross (aka Yellowjacket) is a clear reference to the Marvel title where Ant-Man made his debut in 1962.  Let’s not forget (spoiler!!!) your obligatory Stan Lee cameo, this time as a bartender in one of Luis’s narratives(end of spoiler).

Some may think that Ant-Man is trying too hard to be as funny as Guardians of the Galaxy, but that’s missing the point.  Given the character’s rather low profile before its Hollywood treatment (remember that Guardians had to deal with not one but five disparate characters) that approach is justifiable.  While the futuristic setting of Guardians allowed more room for overt yuks to flourish (particularly with regards to Peter “Star-Lord™” Quill’s anachronistic pop-culture tastes), Ant-Man’s humour is more restrained, given that the context here being that of a father trying to prove himself to his daughter (ah, yeah, kinda noticed the same pattern too with Hank and Hope Pym)

As they say, let’s not underestimate the power of the little guy…

 

 

 

 

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