Friday, July 24, 2015

Ant-Man Review

In light of massive hype around The Avengers: Age of Ultron I had completely forgotten we had another Marvel movie hitting theaters this year. Hard to believe, since the trailers for Ant-Man (2015) were pretty funny and caused much excitement among me and my friends. The movie might be Marvel's funniest superhero origin story, even if the scale is smaller for this size-shifting character.
Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), an engineer who committed a crime he felt that was justified, is sent to prison. When he gets out he wants to be on the straight and narrow, but having a record doesn't help. Eventually his friend tells him of a job and he decides to take it. Scott has to break into a vault and when he does all he finds is a strange suit. After he takes it, he puts it on and discovers it shrinks him, grants him superhuman strength, and the ability to communicate with an army of ants. Scott tries to return it and when he does he's arrested. A man claiming to be his attorney goes to see him and tells him that the suit was an opportunity which he should have taken. Later some ants bring him the suit and he puts it on and gets out of jail. Scott then goes to the man who says he's Hank Pym, a former S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent and  the man who created the suit. Pym used it before and called himself Ant-Man. He gave it up when he found out that S.H.I.E.L.D. was planning to use his technology for things Pym didn't agree with, so he made sure no one could replicate it and put it away. But he now needs Scott to be Ant-Man because it seems like his protégé, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is close to replicating it. So he wants Scott to get into the lab and take it. Scott is uncertain if he can do it and Pym's daughter, Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), agrees and thinks she should be the one to go. But Pym insists that Scott is the one. So Pym and Lilly train him while trying to make sure Cross doesn't suspect anything.
Ant-Man isn't a widely known character in the Marvel Universe, but that's what I love about these Marvel Cinematic Universe movies; they showcase some of the more obscure superheroes and give them opportunities to shine. This being a Marvel movie, you should keep a sharp eye out for references to other Marvel characters and cross-movie references.
So many of the previous Marvel superhero movies have had grand-scale and over-the-top action scenes. It almost seems funny that a movie about a character whose ability is to shrink would have a smaller scale. Scott isn't the stuff of legends, nor does he aspire to be. Scott isn't even interested in fighting. His primary objective is to get a stable job and earn partial custody of his daughter. He gets tied up in some superhero action that he has little interest in initially, but ultimately goes along with it as a means of achieving his goals. This isn't an globe-trotting adventure; it all takes place in a couple of locations in San Francisco. The scale is smaller, but the story isn't any less interesting. It seems that rarely heeded Hollywood wisdom that “less” really can be “more” was implemented here.
One of the things I liked about the characters is that no one was ethically pure; everyone has some slightly dubious backgrounds and motives. The good guys aren't completely good the way Captain America is, nor are the bad guys in the vein of Thanos or Loki who are villains and they know it. Scott is basically a good guy who is not above law breaking if he feels it's justified. Cross is not diabolical, in fact, he's trying make the world a better place, though his experiments are having some adverse side effects. This fits into theme of people transcending who they are and what they are capable of and the idea that even the smallest person can change the world.
As a hero whose power is to shrink, Ant-Man is a little hard to take seriously at first. Fortunately the movie acknowledges this and has fun with the idea and laces it with a generous amount of humor. Similar to Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man plays with the superhero genre while fully embracing the emotions that make the genre fun. This might be the funniest Marvel superhero movie to date; it's got several quotable lines such as, "Baskin Robins always finds out."  I laughed a whole lot.
One of the things that really bothered me about Ant-Man was Hope van Dyne's character. She's established as being more competent, knowledgeable, and capable than Scott about the Ant-Man suit. When we learn why Hank Pym insists on it being Scott, rather than Hope, who acts as the hero, I was left thinking, "Really? THAT'S the reason?" Marvel has been receiving criticism for not utilizing its vast array of female superheroes and even downplaying the character of Black Widow, the only female hero used in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here, the movie is practically acknowledging this gender inequality and laughing about it, giving the hero role to a man at the expense of a much more competent woman character. I know there is a Captain Marvel movie in the works which will feature Marvel's first female superhero as the star, but that's still several years away. You'd think they'd at least start warming up to female superhero.
Shrinking is great and all that, but you wouldn't think that kind of power would be conducive to interesting fights. On the contrary, the action is kept fresh and Ant-Man's powers are used in remarkably creative ways that really keep you guessing how the story is going to progress. There are many times when we're getting caught up in the shrunken action, that when the camera switches to an angle a few feet away, it makes us realize how completely absurd an epic fight scene on a toy train is while still remaining exciting and fun, even humorous. The visuals are amazing. I saw Ant-Man in 2-D, but there are several scenes that are probably fantastic in 3-D.
For all its humor and exciting action, Ant-Man isn't without a few bugs, so to speak. The smaller scale is a major plus, the characters are pretty good, the theme is satisfying, the action and visual effects are fantastic and highly creative, and it's playful in unexpected ways. However the gender dynamics here are annoying and unfounded, the opening scene doesn't establish enough and seems to be included for the sake of cameos, and the story dips into clichés a bit too often. Overall, it's a good movie and I enjoyed it. It's not the best the Marvel Cinematic Universe has to offer, but it's worth seeing in theaters and getting a copy of once it hits home video.

If you were to pick a female superhero from Marvel's arsenal of characters to star in her own movie, who would it be? Comment below and let me know!

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