By Steven Biscotti
There will be a great number of people now looking towards “Ant-Man” as the next big hero. Ironically, he’s Marvel’s smallest, in fandom, awareness, and stature. But after seeing “Ant-Man” opening day, it’s evident that Marvel Studios have crafted another successful series.
Ant-Man has a very interesting past, on film and on the page. He first appeared in Tales to Astonish #27 and went on to being one of the founding members of The Avengers. Well after a chronicled history of failed attempts to bring him to the screen, 2012’s Avengers released and there was no mention of Dr. Henry “Hank” Pym. Fast forward to July 2015, well after director and writer Edgar Wright left the project, and we have the Peyton Reed directed film “Ant-Man.” Not necessarily the most Marvelous of the M.C.U., “Ant-Man” is easily the most fun and family oriented of super hero pictures. Simply put, the few minutes shy of 2 hours is a delight.
“Ant-Man” is, by far, one of the most straight-forward stories told by Marvel. It doesn’t go on to service anything greater other than servicing the characters and our introduction to them. Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) is a brilliant scientist who used to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. Out of fear his work, particularly the Pym Particles, would be weaponized, he left. It’s during this opener that we get to see a brilliantly de-aged Douglas, an older Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), and John Slattery of Mad Men, reprising his “Iron Man 2” role as Howard Stark. The film then catches up to the present day, and Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is released from prison. Borrowing certain elements from the Marvel comics Avengers issue #181, and Marvel Premiere #47 and #48, Lang eventually crosses paths with Pym, after he steals the Ant-man suit from his home safe. Where the film really takes off is in just how much “Ant-Man” feels like a 70’s heist, caper, matinee film, along with seeming as if it belonged somewhere in the early days of big super hero films such as 2000’s X-Men and 2002’s Spider-Man. We eventually learn that Pym’s protege, the power mad Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) has plans to rename Pym Technologies to Cross Technologies, and well, weaponize the Ant-Man suit. This is what sets the rest of the fast-paced film in motion and is precisely a suggested moment where Edgar Wright and Marvel Studios had their “creative differences” issue. Peyton Reed’s “Ant-Man” is a team player and understands its placement in the grander Marvel Cinematic Universe. Edgar Wright’s version, which once sought Michael Douglas as Lang and his father Kirk as Pym, was easily much more concerned with the heist aspect and less about The Avengers. That’s not to say that Reed’s version is completely transfixed on everything Team Downey and Marvel, it actually isn’t, but the film does feature an acknowledgment of the existence of the Avengers, along with an extended cameo by Anthony Mackie’s Falcon.
The film, largely revolves around the “Ocean’s 11” like plot of stealing back Pym’s company from Cross and ensuring that his Pym Particles don’t fall into the wrong hands. It’s a near classic story of good vs evil and slightly unsavory vs sinister. Again, it’s exactly this kind of story that plays so well to the heist film construct and brings to mind a fun Saturday matinee film on screen and/or on tv. Marvel Studios have smartly approached each of their films with a theme and since the heist movie has not been done yet, they chose “Ant-Man” to be just that. It works amazingly well and only leaves fans more excited for the “John Hughes movie” approach to their first MCU Spider-Man film, according to Kevin Feige. Oh, and everyone’s favorite Wall-Crawler does get referenced within “Ant-Man” so pay attention for that closer to the end of the movie.
The cast of “Ant-Man” may, in fact, be the best aspect of the picture as it brings to mind an underdog quality that Jon Favreau’s 2008 “Iron Man” had. Here we have Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, and Michael Douglas leading the film and not once betraying the spirit of their project. Here you have a cast that could have easily faxed in performances for a film that had a troubled start, but instead, they treat each bit of dialogue with as much care as a non-comic book film would have. Michael Douglas and Corey Stoll are especially fun to watch considering just how different the two are. Douglas gives us a Hank Pym, troubled by his past and looking to atone for his sins. It’s a nuanced performance and a fine performance by Hollywood royalty. Up and coming, and certainly rising star Corey Stoll (The Strain, This Is Where I Leave You) gives Darren Cross a classic villain presence and a more outwardly evil turn than Jeff Bridges more reserved Obadiah Stane in Iron Man. Stoll’s Cross is much different than the more Mr. Hyde-ish version of the character in Marvel Premiere’s The Astonishing Ant-Man #48, and the film is better off for it. He’s evil, crazy, and just may have lost his mind due to exposure to the Pym Particles. Douglas’ Pym, while not necessarily the one we know from the comics, feels very much like a real-world version of the scientist and I couldn’t think of a better actor to play him.
However, a more under used, but finely tuned performance is that of Evangeline Lilly as Hope Van Dyne. The Pym/Dyne characters of the film are, quite possibly, two of the most revered of Marvel characters and have been centrally discussed by fans in the time leading up to “Ant-Man.” The lack of Hope’s mother and Pym’s wife, Janet, has troubled many as she is The Wasp. While no one close to the film has spoken too much of The Wasp’s presence in this first outing, I can reveal that fans will not be disappointed because, yep, she’s in it. However, it may not be in the way that most fans would have hoped and this is mainly why an “Ant Man 2” has become my most anticipated sequel yet to be announced. While we do know that Paul Rudd will appear in next May’s Captain America: Civil War, it has not been said when we will see Evangeline Lilly reprise her role of Hope. And that, folks, probably is admission enough as to the potential we have of seeing Wasp on the big screen and done in a perfect way.
Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly have great chemistry, especially as she provides a more serious demeanor to his more casual approach to heroics. It’s a great pairing and the extended montage of Lang being trained by Hope Van Dyne and Hank Pym are wonderful to watch. It has just the right amount of humor and heart that places it up there with last year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Whereas Guardiansexplored the cosmos in a way the MCU had not previously done, but only teased with Thor andAvengers, “Ant Man” explores a sub universe and is firm;y placed on our world. If it wasn’t for the effects we have today and Reed’s ingenuity to blend macro photography into the picture, the shrinking and enlarging sequences may have come across as run of the mill. But, in this movie, they’re anything but. The effects, while mostly impressive, have the occasional flaw that big effects sometimes have. It’s more of an issue of mechanics and how the eye responds to an object that is placed within real photography; just think of certain dinosaur sequences in this year’s “Jurassic World.” Overall, a giant Thomas the Tank Engine crashing through a house and onto a car isn’t that much an iceberg to sink the Peyton Reed steered ship.
“Ant Man” is a highly impressive accomplishment, especially considering how so many wanted (and expected) this to fail. “Ant Man” is anything but the failure that many were hoping for and is a whole lot more fun than many of the other films released this summer. Arguably, it is a better picture than “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and is more exciting in its end credits promise that “Ant Man Will Return.” But, what about Wasp?
“Ant-Man” gets four stars and has two important end-credit scenes. One services a potential setup within this story during mid-credits; the other services next year’s “Captain America: Civil War” so be sure to stay in your seat.
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