Film Review: ANT-MAN
Starring Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Pena, Tip Harris, Wood Harris, Judy Greer, David Dastmalchian, and Abby Ryder Fortson
Directed by Peyton Reed
Written by Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and Paul Rudd
Based on Ant-Man, created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Produced by Kevin Feige
Cinematography by Russell Carpenter
Music by Christophe Beck
Edited by Dan Lebental and Colby Parker, Jr.
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Last year, 2014 that is, just about this same time of the year, a sleeper comic book hit film was unleashed on the cinematic universe and promptly stole the thunder and power from all other summer movie season contenders, promptly becoming simply the best film of that summer—and one of the best films of the year, standing solidly besides the quality prestige films from the fall and holiday seasons. That wonderfully entertaining, fun, funny and heartfelt film for people of all types and ages was Disney’s and Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” And, it is with absolute pleasure and happiness and giddiness to report a year later that another similar, worthy comic book film successor to “Guardians” has been made for this summer, 2015 that is—-and that film to celebrate is indeed Disney’s and Marvel’s equally excellent “Ant-Man.”
“Ant-Man” is excellent—a fun, funny, clever, inventive, action-packed and entertaining comic book superhero movie. The movie has just the right mixture of heroics, humor and heart, and, to its credit, the movie recalls, again, the equally excellent “Guardians of the Galaxy” from last summer. A slimmed-down, toned Paul Rudd (who literally followed Chris Pratt’s lead and went on a sustained, intensive super hero diet to slim down) shines as the lead character, Scott Lang/Ant-Man, combining smarts, physical dexterity and humor; the villain, Darren Cross, is played by a frightening Corey Stoll as perfectly psycho scary in his fancy businessman suits and shaved, cueball head; and Michael Douglas as classy, smart and—importantly—caring brilliant scientist Hank Pym, has one of his best roles and one of his best performances in years—focused, down-to-earth, smart, very much in control and actually likeable.
Much like Robert Downey in the “Iron Man” films, Douglas slyly steals the show from all of the younger, slightly more bland folks, and he is the film’s sold rock and foundation. The direction, from Peyton Reed, who took over from Edgar Wright, is clever, smart, inventive and consistently funny and heartfelt; the writing, credited to a quartet including Wright and Rudd, is insightful, full of heart (heart being a common, positive theme in “Ant-Man” that lifts the film far above the average), and includes some actually well-written passages that actually mean something; and the taut, exciting and suspenseful story and plot keep things moving at a brisk, fun pace. The special effects are incredible, dazzling and extraordinarily memorable, and, for once, the effects are fully integrated into the story and the plot in a smart, connected manner that is never gratuitous. This movie is recommended for all ages—and, just like with “Guardians,” the film is also recommended for all types of people, including those who are not usually fans of fantasy, science fiction, comic book, super hero, video game and animation films.
Whenever a genre film rises far above the usual noise and confusion that clutters many other genre films and can easily appeal to non-genre fans of all ages and types, that is a sure sign that the filmmakers have succeeded in crafting an original, inventive film that doesn’t worry about catering to fan bases or upsetting overly-protective fan boys and girls, but rather focuses on simply being an excellent film that can stand on its own as a quality movie for the masses. “Ant-Man,” and, again, “Guardians” are the rare cases where the filmmakers have indeed succeeded on these levels.
“Ant-Man” achieves its success with a fascinating story and back-story, strong acting from all its leads and from several comedic supporting actors, confident direction by Reed, who knows, with a director’s smart insight, just the right times to insert equal does of those heroic, heart and humor elements, and an overall production that makes sure to include likable characters, characters with real feelings and emotions and insight, a lack of overly-macho and testosterone-fueled over-acting, preening and showing-off by the characters (elements that too often bring down other comic book and super hero films), actual humility and down-to-earth qualities by many of the lead characters and actors, and those aforementioned special effects that are actually essential to the story, plot, characters and action.
Rudd’s Scott Lang is one of those non-conventional super heroes who show that, yes, a lovable, likable, down-to-earth everyman type of guy can indeed be a super hero. Think Chris Pratt’s character from “Guardians,” Michael Keaton’s Batman, Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man and even Christopher Reeve’s Superman who was relatable even though Reeve was indeed this chiseled, toned, buffed traditional super hero-looking man. However, Reeve was a smart enough actor—just like Rudd, Pratt, Maguire and Keaton—to bring some nerdiness, awkwardness, warmth, smarts, down-to-earth qualities and, again, humility and heart, to the role. It is this approach to being a true super hero—being a real person with real quirks and faults and negatives as well as positives—that makes a super hero a real, approachable, relatable—and lovable—super hero.
And all of that is exactly what Rudd brings to “Ant-Man’s” Scott Lang. At the start of the film, Lang is a heroic, likable cat burglar, having been jailed for committing a humanistic-based burglary of an evil corporation—a burglary that was designed with heroic undertones. He’s a genuinely nice guy, as Rudd gives Lang his patented understated humor and just a slight bit of edgy, neurotic funny nervousness. Nevertheless, after that burglary, good intentions or not, Lang is jailed, then released a few years later while still a young man. After his release from jail, Lang vows, heroically, but honestly, of course, to stay clean, get a job, and just be the good father to his incredibly cute young daughter Cassie (a completely and appropriately fetching and adorable Abby Ryder Fortson) to make up for lost time while he, and Cassie, are still young. That’s a nice start to the film—and, of course, everyone knows something incredible is coming Lang’s way, and even if you know what’s coming, that doesn’t matter. It’s the suspense and enjoyment in watching Lang’s progress—it’s not giving anything away—toward becoming Ant-Man that’s thoroughly fun.
How Lang becomes Ant-Man won’t be revealed, but it’s comforting to note that Lang maintains his likability, humility—and normalness—after he somewhat reluctantly becomes the hero, Ant-Man. There is much credit to be given to Rudd’s performance—and his contributions to the screenplay—that Lang doesn’t transform into some, well, macho and preening show-off superstud thing who forgets about everyone else and becomes, well, unlikable. Rudd’s peers and predecessors—Pratt, Keaton, Maguire and Reeve—always made sure to keep a large part of their everyday, normal and funny person alive and present and real in the moment, every moment, even when they were playing super hero and saving the day. That’s real acting—and real perception that if you lose the real person inside the suits and masks and fighting and costumes and superpowers and special effects, you also lose the audience.
Lang eventually joins forces with the eminent, brilliant, revolutionary and also humanistic scientist—that’s a cliché, yes, but it’s a fun cliché—Hank Pym. Pym, brilliantly played by a focused Michael Douglas at an intensity that this time around is rooted in realism and human kindness instead of the usual smarmy, snooty macho types that Douglas has sometimes played in the past, is a groundbreaking physicist and insect expert who has created technology that can shrink a human being to the size of an ant while at the same time increasing that person’s inherent strength, thus creating an incredibly, frighteningly scary, dangerous, and potentially world- and history-changing—weapon and atomic development.
An interesting twist in “Ant-Man” is that—again, this is not really giving anything away—Pym is not crazed or greedy—in this case, to the film’s credit, Douglas’ character knows that greed is not good—and Pym is not focused on saving or changing the world but—gasp—actually saving the world from his own research and invention. Pym actually—and this is just a great, inventive plot element—wants nothing more than to keep the actual elements of his discovery hidden, kept secret—and out of the hands of others. And, even better, once Pym realizes that Stoll’s increasingly crazed Cross has developed on his own a technology similar to that discovered by Pym, Pym initiates a mission to destroy Cross’ research before Cross and his discovery lead only to evil, war, danger, destruction, corruption, and, yes, greed.
Pym enlists Lang, as Ant-Man, to destroy Cross’ project, work, experiments, laboratory and technological developments in a race against time, as Cross works to sell his evil work to the highest criminal bidder—which, again, will only lead to war and destruction.
To see a scientist work with a super hero to destroy a competitor’s work—work based on the scientist’s own, earlier experiments—with the only real goal being to prevent future chaos is heartening. Of course, all good guys and heroes work toward such goals—but the difference in “Ant-Man” is that one of the heroes, Pym, is essentially out to destroy and prevent the world from interacting with his own, groundbreaking work. Pym is smart and insightful enough to know that even though his work is groundbreaking and could have positive implications, it’s also terribly dangerous to the world.
Pym completely swallows his pride and he and Lang as Ant-Man embark on a dangerous, suspenseful mission to destroy Cross, his work, his heavily-guarded headquarters, laboratory and compound, and his technology in general.
The fun is in the mission. And part of the fun of the mission is, besides Rudd’s likable, quirky Ant-Man and Douglas’sturdy, smart Pym, Lang’s cohorts, an assembly of rag-tag, bumbling, oddly lovable and weirdly geeky white collar criminals who are more neighborhood hood-based petty criminals, really, than Impossible Mission Force, X-Men, Avengers or Fantastic Four types. Again, all of this works to the film’s credit. We don’t really need another IMF, X-Men, Avengers or Fantastic Four type of group—really, we don’t—and it’s fun to see Lang’s neighborhood guys fumble, bumble and joke their way in and out of situations. Once again, it’s the likable, humble and down-to-earth qualities of this group—just like the rag-tag group assembled with Pratt in “Guardians”—that contributes to “Ant-Man’s” likability quotient. An hilarious, goofball Michael Pena, Tip Harris and David Dastmalchian contribute mightily to Ant-Man as Lang’s inevitably reliable gang of thieves.
Pena, Harris and Dastmalchian really recall the lovable goofball high-tech thieves in “Sneakers” and the television show “Leverage.” They’re all gangs of thieves—but lovable, good-hearted gangs of thieves.
Fortunately, and always enjoyably, Pym, Lang, Hope and Lang’s street cohorts win in the end over the evil Cross—that’s not giving anything away, either—and the foundation is created for future adventures of Ant-Man. As with Guardians last year, that’s only a good thing.
Evangeline Lilly is along for the ride as Pym’s steely, cold, emotionally conflicted daughter Hope van Dyne, and it’s a difficult role for anyone. Hope is caught squarely between supporting and bickering with her father, Pym, and with Lang, while also working with Cross at his company. Hope has to navigate a tricky, confusing and difficult series of waters among Pym, Lang and Cross, and it’s a role and character that is not instantly likable or relatable. However, the conflicting emotions that are part of the character of Hope are also an essential part of the story, and these emotions and conflicts all actually mean something—not to be revealed—and that meaning, emotion and conflict are essential to the over-arching story, plot and character development. And those story elements also help to elevate the quality of “Ant-Man” by giving the film a solid heart—once again, much like “Guardian’s” equally moving and heartfelt back story.
Similarly, what made Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man, Christopher Nolan’s three Batman films and Reeve’s first two Superman films, from Richard Donner and Richard Lester, so good is that those films, too, always remained solidly rooted in the human heart, and that’s never a bad place to be. Once you rise above the noise and confusion to land in a place of love and caring, that’s always where the true superhero resides.
If there’s just one lesson to be learned from “Guardians” and “Ant-Man,” and it’s a good lesson to take home from the movie theater, it’s that the real character of a true superhero lies not in the muscles, power and brawn, but always and forever in the mind, heart and soul.