08172017Headline:

“Ant-Man” proves to be larger than life

By Jeff Boudreaux

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To close out the “so-called” second phase of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), Marvel Studios has not only given the fans a film that can serve as both the perfect bridge to phase three (beginning with next year’s “Captain America: Civil War”), but also a pretty good movie that has no problem standing on its own two feet. “Ant-Man” showcases one of Marvel’s most offbeat and complex superheroes. With an exemplary blend of action and comedy, it manages to present a surprisingly humanistic view of the man behind the mask, while giving proper credit to the character’s originator. As a result, this is sure to please even the most fervent of Marvel’s movie-going audience while satisfying comic book purists as well.

The film opens with Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), developer of a formula that has been persistently sought after by the board of directors at his own research facility. Not wanting to let the proverbial cat out of the bag, Pym is forced out of his own company. Fast forward a quarter of a century and Pym Industries is being run by Pym’s charming, yet unscrupulous protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), alongside Pym’s formerly estranged daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly of the “Hobbit” trilogy). Fortunately for Pym, as the company’s founder, he’s still welcome at meetings and witnesses firsthand that Cross has finally figured out his mentor’s formula after years of research, and announces the prototype for a secret weapon dubbed “Yellowjacket.” You see, Hank Pym’s alter ego “Ant-Man” employs the same principle, and that is to shrink a human being to the size of an insect, where they can also re-enlarge themselves by the push of a button. Thinking of the nefarious possibilities that such a weapon getting into the wrong hands would necessitate, an aging Pym realizes that he must find a person trustworthy enough to wear the old suit and cagey enough to steal the new one.ant-man-first-clip-feature-888x456

Enter ex-con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a man who has just been released from San Quentin after “Robin-Hooding” a bunch of Wall Street executives. Scott wants to go straight, if only for the sake of his daughter Cassie, who absolutely adores him. Unfortunately, Scott is unable to hold a job at Baskin-Robbins (he lied on the background forms) or even allowed to stay at Cassie’s birthday party due to the distrust of his ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer) and her police officer husband Paxton (Bobby Cannavale). Needless to say, Lang’s idle mind falls victim to the constant pressuring of his small-time crook friends Luis, Dave, and Kurt (respectively played by Michael Pena, T.I., and David Dastmalchian in brilliantly comedic performances), who implore him to do “one more job.” Unbeknownst to Lang and his cohorts, this latest criminal escapade and act of desperation has been propagated by Pym, who is well aware of Scott’s talents and has been watching his every move! After being arrested, Scott is forced with the decision of either staying in jail or becoming Pym’s new protégé, and thereby, the new Ant-Man.AntMan54b5cd0fb5bee

Lang chooses the latter and escapes from jail via the shrinking costume (don’t ask). As anyone who has ever attempted to become a superhero should know, it’s not that easy and there is no such thing as too much training! This is why he is placed under the vigorous tutelage of Hope, who is quite the badass and has recently become a mole at Pym Industries for her father. Once Lang is battle-ready (and always with a legion of ants at his side and doing his bidding), Pym outlines his objective: infiltrate Pym Industries to seize the dangerously more advanced Yellowjacket suit. This idea is easier said than done since he needs a condenser from Avengers headquarters to even begin his mission. Add this to the fact that Cross plans on not only selling his technology to the highest bidder (so what if it’s Hydra!), he’s narcissistically decided to don the suit himself. Consequently, Ant-Man will need to put all of his new powers to the test before an army of miniscule, sinister super-soldiers are unleashed upon the world.Yellow Jacket

This movie is a fanboy’s dream. Not only do we get appearances from a couple of Avengers, we get treated to a great backstory of why Pym hung up the suit after so many years. It is also beneficial to the film that the first half employs a deliberate, methodical pacing, which some viewers might misconstrue as being “slow.” In reality, what we are getting is crucial information concerning Pym and his origin story, outstanding character development, and a CGI Michael Douglas circa 1988! Don’t worry, I know that sounds scary but it does not last that long.

This unhurried approach also allows us to actually care about Scott Lang, as a person, and wallow in his despair at his unfulfilled relationship with his daughter. It’s this emotional connection with family that makes this film stand out, similarly touched upon in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” when were able to catch a glimpse of Hawkeye’s home life. I believe many fans would agree that the humanization aspect of these storylines adds a welcome layer of depth to these magnificent characters. Besides, if Ant-Man was kicking ass from the get-go then we would only have a one-dimensional action icon, rather than an alter-ego that we can truly empathize with.

Paul Rudd makes a likeable and believable reluctant hero, whose number one priority is naturally his daughter. Everything he does is for Cassie, which makes it all the more appropriate (and hilarious that one of the film’s final battle sequences takes place in the little girl’s room on a “Thomas the Tank Engine” trainset)! And the casting of the leads in this film is really a one-two punch. Screen veteran Michael Douglas gets his meatiest role in years, and while he never wears the Ant-Man costume, we know that Hank Pym is just as much of a superhero as Scott Lang.

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“Ant-Man” is directed by Peyton Reed, the man behind such comedies as “Yes Man,” “The Break Up,” and “Bring it On.” And those looking to laugh, need not look further as this cast makes the most of a mirthful script by Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and Paul Rudd himself, who gets to display his comedic chops as one would expect. What I didn’t expect, is for Michael Pena as Luis, Scott’s best friend, to steal just about every scene he was in. Likewise, even Stoll’s villainous portrayal of Darren Cross is terribly funny. One of my favorite scenes is where Hank and Hope are speaking in Pym’s kitchen, and lo and behold Pym notices Cross in his living room. Asking how he got in, Cross replies that the door was open and tells Hank, “It’s official: you’re old.” Now, that is classic.

“Ant-Man” has the fortune of being released during what should be a very fruitful time for Marvel (as well as DC) with the excitement surrounding the recent San Diego comic-con, an event that has re-energized comic-to-film fans from all around the world. While some non-MCU 20th Century Fox properties were on showcase at that event, including “Fantastic Four,” “X-Men: Apocalypse,” and the long-awaited “Deadpool,” the Disney-owned Marvel Studios will reap second-hand excitement from rabid Marvel fans who just have to get their comic fix, as well as find out just what is in store for them after the credits. Oh, and they shouldn’t mind the wonderfully entertaining two hours onscreen before that either.

***1/2 (three and a half out of four stars)

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